One afternoon, the students in G6 made pies, one of the home’s favorite activities. It’s a way for students to learn cooking and kitchen skills while having fun. James took part in the exercise. He smiled and rolled out the dough, filling it with apples, and waited for his sweet treat to bake. Taking part in this activity was a major accomplishment for the young man. At Heartspring, success is different for every student. For James, part of his success was getting his weight and love of food under control. Having the self-control to work around food and having the patience not to eat or steal any before it was done was a major achievement.
When James came to Heartspring he weighed more than 300 pounds. The weight wasn’t the only issue for James. He is impacted by autism and began to have more aggressive behaviors toward himself and others as he got older and bigger. It was difficult for his parents to manage. Food became a way for his mom to keep her son happy and calm.
“When he would get off the school bus, I had to have his meal ready and on the table,” Kristi, James’ mom, said. “It had better been what he wanted and the quantity he wanted or otherwise there was going to be a big blow up.”
Kristi knew she just couldn’t meet his needs. James had to go to a place where he could learn to control his behaviors and appetite. A place equipped with the staff and the knowledge to help James grow and be successful. To give her son his best chance at a successful life, Kristi chose Heartspring.
One of the first things Heartspring staff tackled was James’ weight. There are health issues with weighing more than 300 pounds as a teenager, but there is also an overall happiness concern. James was very limited in his self-care abilities. His weight lessened his mobility. Even putting on his shoes or socks was difficult for him. He couldn’t bend over, and he could only wear overalls.
Losing weight isn’t an easy task, but because he was at Heartspring, he had a team of people prepared to help James reach a healthier weight and his own individualized meal plan written by the medical staff. His team portioned out his meals in smaller servings, that way he could still come back for more helpings. This stretched out the mealtime so he would feel fuller. James started dropping the pounds while he gained self-confidence.
“As he started losing weight, you could tell he was happier,” Deb, his home coordinator, said. “He could move around easier. He became more playful. His whole quality of life improved.”
Getting healthier was a big, visible change for James, but Heartspring has also helped him control his behaviors. Over time, they’ve helped James become less aggressive. When he first got to Heartspring, his teacher, Terry, really worked on establishing a rapport and trust, as they do with all students. His psychology staff works on self-calming techniques like using safe hands and deep breathing. Heartspring’s routine and set schedule has also given James the consistency he needed to help make gains in controlling his behavior. Now, when he begins to get worked up about something, he has the ability to calm himself down, without any outside assistance.
Because of the self-control he’s learned at Heartspring, James’ world has become much bigger. He can participate in house activities like making pies without stealing food. He is a very hard worker and can even do household kitchen chores without running to the refrigerator or grabbing food. James participated in community outings like delivering for Meals on Wheels and going to the state fair. Before James came to Heartspring, he wouldn’t have been able to take part in all of these life experiences.
“James wouldn’t be the individual he is today without Heartspring.” Kristi said. “We would not be the family we are today without Heartspring. It has been a miracle. It has been a huge blessing. I just pray that Heartspring continues blessing people’s lives like it does today, because it has been huge, huge for us, as a family, and I can’t imagine where we would be without Heartspring.”