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Team approach helps autistic student advance

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By Ben Bomberger, Reporter

INDEPENDENCE — Three years ago, Parker Carico was diagnosed with autism and had a vocabulary of five to 10 clear words.

Now — after a team effort between home and school — Parker can speak more than 300 words and use some full sentences.

Parker is a kindergarten student at Independence Elementary.

This past fall, the school system helped implement a program with Dr. Chris Layne, director of the Lake Norman Counseling and Autism Center.

“We have been providing a program at home for nearly three years, which is based on Applied Behavioral Analysis,” said Parker's mom, Candi.

The home program was started by Kathy Graff, a retiree to Grayson County with 15 years experience in the field of ABA.

“She has been a great blessing to our family and especially the future of Parker,” Candi said.

The program was implemented this past fall, and Dr. Layne said Parker's progress has been exceptional. Areas in which Parker has improved include his use of words and language to express his needs, as well as his fine motor tasks.

The success has come as a result of teamwork.

With Parker's parent's Tim and Candi, Graff, Janie Hensdell and Jim Best making up the “home team,” and the “school team” consisting of Dr. Layne, Grayson Schools' Director of Special Education Doug Lawson, IES Principal Susan Mitchell, teachers Mrs. Grubb and Mrs. Moser and aide Arnold Hash, Parker's progress has excelled.

A day in the life of the 6-year-old is similar to that of any student. While he spends the majority of his day in the classroom, Parker spends one hour a day with Hash working on ABA therapy.

ABA was developed in the 1960s and is based on the idea that influencing a response associated with a behavior may cause that behavior to be shaped and controlled. The technique is a mixture of psychological and educational techniques that are utilized based upon the needs of each individual child.

Layne noted that while Parker only requires an hour or less of one-on-one therapy, the time varies by each individual child. For example, a child may start out needing several hours of one-on-one time, but as they improve, that number dwindles down.

Hash spends the rest of the day with Parker in the classroom and helps assist him in daily activities and routines.

“We are honored to have such a dedicated person to assist Parker in his day to day challenges at school,” Candi said. “It takes a big team to be able to do this.”

Mitchell, Parker's principal, said she has enjoyed watching Parker grow. “His sense of humor has really come out this year, and now he is able to share in life a little more.”

Layne added that the goal of the program is to help Autistic children be not only a part of the community, but in a meaningful way.

Grayson Schools have worked hard to implement the program, as well. Lawson told The Gazette that it is Grayson's goal to have programs in place to meet the needs of all children, including those with autism.

The programs focus on meeting initiatives that will help the school system provide children and families with their educational needs.

Lawson added that the school system focuses on a successful transition of its students from secondary education into post-secondary. “We continue to look at new ways to be able to improve. As times become more challenging, it gets tougher. We try to begin with the end in mind.”

In other words, the school system looks at what it wants to accomplish and then finds a path to get from today to there.

Lawson agreed that the effort required a team approach to be successful — the staff, administration, parents and students. “We all work together to come up with a plan that will be successful.”

Lawson said that was certainly the case with the autism program, as was evident by the success with Parker. “Some strong results have been realized this year. The program has shown through as a result of the progress that Parker has made.”

Lawson added that educators “do our very best to see that each child and family receives the services needed to be successful.”

According to the Autism Society of America, as of 2007 autism affected 1 in 150 births and the rate is growing at 10 to 17 percent per year.

The first five years are the most crucial in determining whether a child will be able to talk, and there is a 12 percent chance a child with autism will not talk at all if not talking by age 5.

April is Autism Awareness month, and Parker's team urged all parents to act quickly if they suspect their child may be autistic.

“Any parent that thinks something is wrong, hop on it,” Graff said. “Don't wait! The earlier, the better.”

Parker's parents also gave special thanks to Lawson for his assistance, as well as members of the Grayson School Board for the many phone calls and for going above and beyond their call of duty to see that Parker's future is as bright as the board members' children's future.

“We, as parents, certainly hope children in the future within the Grayson County School System will excel and receive the great benefits resulting from this valued and much-needed approach,” Candi said.

• For more information about autism, visit the Autism Society of

America Web site at www.autism-society.org