Heartspring teacher Peggy Hallack remembers vividly the day she met Edgar in June 2006. “It was my first day at Heartspring and my mentoring teacher was introducing the students in classroom S123. She gestured to a student that had backed himself into a corner and said, ‘That’s our newest student, Edgar. He is eight years old.’ He was so little and looked like he was five. He had been at Heartspring a mere two weeks.”
Peggy recalls that Edgar was curled up in a ball on his tiptoes and his eyes had dark circles around them; his gaze was often distant and he appeared unaware. “I watched and wondered what was going on in his little brain. He would spit, slap his face and pinch his neck in a rhythmic routine that only he seemed to understand,” she said. Within a second, he could slap both sides of his face so hard it would make even the hardest of hearts shudder. Three staff attended to Edgar, trying to redirect his self-injurious behavior. Five clickers hung from his staff’s waist to take data and count the number of targeted behaviors. Edgar was like a contortionist, twisting and turning to avoid the blocks. He was driven to complete his routine. Staff was driven to block his behaviors and avoid giving any attention to his actions. “I admired the staff for their persistence and patience and admired Edgar for his as well,” said Peggy. “I was thinking at the time there should be a way to channel his persistence into something productive.”
Edgar’s sleep and eating habits were inconsistent. He had his own rules about food. Additionally, Edgar had no way to communicate his wants and needs. His way of communicating was grabbing what he wanted or he would engage in a tantrum when no one could understand what he desired.
In the classroom, every task was hand-over-hand with Edgar. He had no motivation to work, play or interact. He would not make eye contact and seemed oblivious to people around him. He shrank away from hugs and he was not toilet trained.
Week after week, Edgar’s team meets to brainstorm, strategize programming, discuss trial behavior plans and implement interventions to reach Edgar.
Edgar’s mother, Patty, recalls his transition to Heartspring as quite a struggle. “Edgar was spitting, reserved, hitting himself and throwing food,” she said. “The Heartspring staff worked very hard with him. They put up with the spitting, the hitting, the resistance and the food that Edgar would throw at them. They gained his trust and his love as well as my respect.”
Peggy enjoys sharing with everyone, the progress that Edgar has made since his arrival at Heartspring. “It is 8:00 in the morning and I hear ‘woooyaaaa’ coming from the classroom. I leave my office and go into the classroom to greet the students for the morning. There stands Edgar, clapping and tap dancing around the classroom, waiting patiently to go to breakfast. I tell Edgar good morning and give him a hug. He leans in for the affection and my heart melts. I tap my cheek with my finger and he leans in and gives me a peck on the cheek and then happily twirls away.”
While he is eating his breakfast, he uses pictures on the table or his communication book to indicate if he wants more. When he is asked, “Edgar, do you want toast?” he taps the yes picture on the table and then proceeds to tear off the crust. On most days, Edgar leaves the cafeteria table happily. Sometimes, his food rules reappear. Sometimes we get it, sometimes we don’t.
Edgar’s behavior in the classroom is much more manageable. Currently one staff is assigned to him. He no longer spits, his self-injurious routines have gone down drastically, and in general, he just seems to be a happier child. He is affectionate and has a great sense of humor. He will look you right in the eye and giggle. He appropriately responds to directions. He will laugh at staff when they do something silly and will interact with students and staff in appropriate ways. He actually likes to play and on his really good days, will work independently on tasks. He follows simple directions and is increasing his independence each day. “The day Edgar allowed me to read an entire book to him without any behaviors was spine-tingling,” said Peggy.
Peggy said she is amazed and looks on with wonder every day that she sees Edgar do anything independently, like get himself a drink, tell staff he needs to go the bathroom, ask for a snack, or appropriately shake his head no (and laugh) when he is asked to do something. ‘We introduce new opportunities into his world each day and Edgar seems more and more accepting of changes in his environment. Three years ago we would not have been able to take him to eat out at a restaurant, go visit Santa Claus, go to the zoo or go shopping,” said Peggy. “Although Edgar still has challenges in his world, we know from his progress thus far, that he will continue to grow and become more independent in his functional skills.”
Peggy is quick to sympathize with parents that have to make the gut-wrenching decision to hand over their child to Heartspring’s care. “When I see progress in the students, no matter how incremental, I hope that parents will find comfort and peace in knowing that our multi-disciplinary team of specialists will do everything we can to teach their children to be more independent, communicate appropriately and be more accepting of changes in their world.“
Patty also feels that Edgar’s communication skills have expanded and is excited to see his personality is finally shining through as he engages with others in play. Patty is also so happy to see Edgar smile and laugh again. “I am grateful for what Heartspring is doing for my son and all the other children there. They are a Godsend. They truly care about the children there.”