Arc of Loudoun Launches One-Stop, Early Intervention Program

The Arc of Loudoun on Tuesday hosted an early intervention summit, offering advice on how best to help young children on the autism spectrum, and highlighting its six fully integrated programs including Aurora Behavior Clinic, Aurora School, Open Door Learning Center, Ability Fitness Center, Project Horse and A Life Like Yours Advocacy Center.

It was also the launch of the Claude Moore Center for Early Intervention, a collaboration among services at the Arc of Loudoun in Leesburg and elsewhere to create a “one stop shop” for kids up to 8 years old, when their developing brains are most flexible for learning the skills and behaviors they will need in life. It is supported both financially and with expertise from the Claude Moore Charitable Foundation.

The summit included presentations from experts both inside and outside the Arc of Loudoun, including Aurora Behavior Clinic Director Janelle McDonald and ALLY Advocacy Center Administrative Director Eileen Shaffer, and guidance on how to get a formal diagnosis from pediatric psychiatrist Stephanie Mayrant of the Inova Kellar Center. A number of parents, experts and representatives from other organizations also attended in person or on the webcast.

“It was really interesting for this one how many of us were hearing from other providers that we didn’t know about,” Arc of Loudoun CEO Lisa Kimball said. “It’s always fascinating to me that within the same overarching community, whatever that particular issue is, there are so many people doing such great things but we don’t necessarily all know of each other. So this was a really great way for everyone to really introduce and collaborate.”

And she said the goal now is to create a roadmap for parents dealing with a new autism diagnosis for their young child, who face a difficult situation, long waits for testing, complicated medical terminology across a range of disciplines, and often no clear path.

“It’s such a complex and convoluted situation … but by the same token, there should be some way to get it on a piece of paper,” she said. “There should be some way to consolidate this down to, ‘here’s a 10-point checklist, this is going to get you started, and here are the terms and definitions and acronyms that you’re going to come across, and here’s who you want to talk to get on the waitlist, and here’s how you’re going to begin to advocate for your child.’”

Haleema Tayub, the mother of a student at the Open Door Learning Center and client at the Aurora Behavior Clinic, said her own family’s journey with autism began a little over a year ago when her two-and-a-half year old son was first diagnosed.

“It really feels like a turning point in our lives. It felt like there was our life that we were leading up to that point, and now were on this different path of so many unknowns,” she said. “We had so many more questions than we had answers.”

She recalled the work to answer those questions—everything from how to find the right therapist and whether insurance will cover it, to where to find the right daycare, to how to be a parent to a child who learns differently.

“I do wish that at that time, I knew what I know now: that my child is that same child that got that diagnosis,” she said. “He’s the same child before and after. But what that diagnosis did was really open up resources for us.”

She said the Arc of Loudoun provided a one-stop shop for many of those resources, a saving grace. And she said that early intervention has been key—with his rapidly-growing brain at his young age, there is a real opportunity to teach him the skills he needs.

“The biggest thing was grieving, and then accepting that autism just means that my son’s brain is wired differently. He thinks differently, he learns differently,” she said. “And my job as a mother is to love and accept him, but that also doesn’t change the fact that he needs extra support to learn things that other kids that are neurotypical are learning on their own.”

She encouraged parents to get their children in line for testing early if they are showing any kind of development delay. And, she said, find a community and a support network.

“The advice I always give to parents is, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Ask for help. Build your village,” she said.

Mayrant said during the summit that the signs of autism can be difficult to recognize, and autistic children can be diagnosed for conditions that may describe some of their behaviors but don’t get at the root cause. It can take a multi-disciplinary team and a set of specific tests to make an accurate diagnosis.

Afterwards Kimball said in that way, she was reminded of her experience with her own son, who suffered a traumatic brain injury at 14. It took years to get diagnoses, and those were mental health related—missing the underlying brain injury. Her son was able to build a life for himself eventually, and today has a job, a marriage, and child of his own.

Hearing from experts in the room like Mayrant was a poignant moment, she said.

“That multidisciplinary team, if that had existed, if we had been able to find that back 2002—what might have been different?” she said. “I guess that’s kind of now a personal goal, to make sure that nobody else that we can help has that question of, ‘if only I knew.’”

For more information about the Arc of Loudoun, go to thearcofloudoun.org.

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