Camren’s first words were “mama” and “dada”. He was developing typically until he was about 18 months old when he stopped saying anything. Camren’s parents, Lucas and Davina, thought it was because he had been concentrating on learning to walk. When Camren did not begin to use more sounds or words they then became concerned with his hearing, which after testing, they learned was fine. After a year of early intervention with a speech therapist, Camren was diagnosed with autism.
Autism is a development disability that affects communication, socialization and stereotypical or patterned behaviors. “When I thought of autism, I thought of the children who were more severe,” said Davina. “I didn’t know if you threw all of Camren’s little quirks together it would equal autism.”
After the diagnosis, life changed for Camren’s family. Lucas and Davina grieved for a couple of days and then began to look for help. Like many other families, they received a diagnosis for their son and then felt alone with no guidance as to where to go or what to do. Davina turned to other professionals who were surprised the family was looking for therapy outside of a school environment. “The fundamental belief that we are not doing enough makes us keep going,” said Lucas. Heartspring turned out to be their best option. The family travels 80 miles twice a week for Camren to receive both speech and occupational therapies.
Camren began therapy services at Heartspring Pediatric Services in April 2008. His family was mostly concerned with Camren’s lack of communication. At that time Camren had limited ways of expressing himself and responding to others. Davina says Camren made so much progress in the first six months - he went from no words to having hundreds of words or labels. He also is able to utilize PECS (Picture Exchange Communication System) at home, school and therapy. “Audrey (Camren’s speech therapist) came in and knew what she was doing,” said Davina.
Camren needed the routine and structure provided in his therapy sessions. He began picking up words week after week. Audrey has been working with Camren on his ability to communicate with others and his ability to understand what others are saying to him. She uses a structured environment as well as games and toys to teach Camren. He does not initiate speech, but will repeat words, make choices from pictures and will attempt to use the carrier phrase of “I want” with prompts. Davina calls PECS and visuals a “bridge” for Camren. He is able to see the picture and recall the name of the object. This in turn helps Camren communicate his wants and needs.
Camren will only eat about 5 or 6 different things each day. These foods consist of chips, peanut butter, chicken nuggets, a specific kind of fruit snack, apple slices and crackers. Davina found a juice to assist in his intake of fruits and vegetables. “Without it, Camren would not get any serving of vegetables,” she said. One of his goals of through occupational therapy with Teresa Young is too increase his ability to try new textures of foods. Camren not only does not like to try new foods, he does not like to touch wet, sticky, messy things. He would never play with play dough. “Teresa has gotten him to play with play dough twice,” said Davina. “Two sessions made a big difference.”
This family has many hopes for the future. When asked where they see Camren in two to five years, Davina smiles and says, “It depends on if it is an optimistic day, or a pessimistic day.” No matter what the day, Lucas and Davina want to provide a home environment where Camren can be happy and satisfied. Davina says she learned quickly from Audrey and the way in which she taught him. Camren thrives in a structured and routine based environment, which she is trying to implement at home. She has seen how the structure of the environment can affect his entire day. All in all the family is dedicated to providing more attention and therapy at home. Davina and Lucas know how imperative it is to immerse Camren in an opportunity-rich environment when he is young. They hope that he will be able to attend regular education classes, with some assistance. With the help of Heartspring and the dedication of his family, that hope may one day become a reality.