What Parents Are Saying About VHAP
“It has been an amazing experience to work with Verdugo Hills Autism Project.”
As a mom to an eleven year-old son with autism, I have worked with many behavioral intervention companies. Each one has always had good intentions and tried to help my son communicate and learn effectively. Unfortunately, none of the past attempts had been effective. It has always been challenging to find competent therapists and reliable supervisors to problem solve with; that is, until Jackie Zaldua was assigned as supervisor of my child’s case.
It has been an amazing experience to work with Verdugo Hills Autism Project. Jackie has completely turned around his sessions. Before, we were lacking an effective schedule for him where he could anticipate his day, and at the same time be challenged and expand upon his skills. His wonderful therapist Alexandria Washington beautifully follows through on the goals Jackie sets, but she also constantly expands upon them as soon as he masters a skill. Jackie and Alexandria have also been instrumental in coming up with wonderful ways for my son’s brother to be a part of his sessions so that their relationship can blossom further.
My child has had an amazing year and I credit his development as being a result of the wonderful work Jackie and Alexandria are doing with him. I couldn’t ask for better intervention for my son.
“With VHAP and our team supervisor we have found a clear path to look for ways to overcome his hurdles.”
Raising a child is sometimes a rewarding, yet often times difficult experience. When your child is diagnosed as Autistic, difficult becomes terrifying and heartbreaking. You are given a diagnosis that feels as grim and hopeless as one could possibly feel. With no support given, it is up to the parents to find out exactly what needs to be done and where they should go for help. Nowadays, nearly everyone has a connection to autism, so it is sometimes useful to take advice from a friend dealing with the same rock and hard place.
Our son is a challenge. Mostly, he is a challenge for different reasons than one would expect. My child is kind, loving, caring and incredibly intelligent. The irony is that for someone who couldn’t talk, he just doesn’t want to stop talking now. It is a blessing and a curse. And thankfully, we do have an incredible team on our side.
With VHAP and our team supervisor, Jackie Zaldua, we have found a clear path to look for ways to overcome his hurdles. Whether it be his repetitive nature, or his need to talk during class at school, as much of a kind and beautiful soul he has, many teachers simply see him as disruptive. Thankfully, Jackie and our team were able to lead him through this very rough time.
School issues aside, there is also a matter of the home and where he comes from. Sometimes it feels as though the parent is on trial, as if the term “refrigerator mother” is still alive and well. When Jackie has come into our home and seen things that she doesn’t agree with or feels that there is a better way to handle a certain situation, she approaches her ideas respectfully and with tact. This is especially palatable when you are near depression and self loathing because you are not the provider that society finds acceptable. I’ve never been one to care what other people think, but there is much at stake when it comes to your child. Any self-respecting parent wants the best for their child, and when autism becomes part of your daily language, the challenge is greater but so are the accomplishments.
And yes, I mention the accomplishments, because life isn’t always drowning in the deep blue sea with no land in sight. In fact, it is completely opposite of that. The love and joy that he has brought me and my wife has simply made us better people, that is, I am utterly grateful as to what my child has taught me. His view of the world has restored some of my innocence lost. We recently shared watching a movie together about something dear to my heart. This subject – Pearl Jam and their music – has also brought joy and excitement to him as well. It was like watching STAR WARS for the first time with your child. It was beauty and it was perfect.
This joy I speak of is also celebrated by Jackie and her wise and thoughtful approach. Besides the difficulty of making sure your child has the best parents he possibly can, it can be emotionally taxing letting somebody who barely knows the child yet still demand you do things a certain way. Both my wife and I love our child more than anything we could ever imagine. While we may not be perfect people, we strive to offer our child a happy life. Thanks to VHAP and the strength of Jackie Zaldua, we continue to make and reach goals for him as he comes closer and closer to being an adult. It is scary for a child of innocence to face a world that has long since abandoned innocence and beauty. Yet it is still there, and sometimes it is children like our child that make a handful of grown-ups realize it. Jackie still has that as do each and every one of the therapists working with him under VHAP.
~Father of an 11 year old boy in North Hollywood
“The VHAP specialists came in and made the biggest difference.”
“When things got tough for our child at school, the VHAP specialists came in and made the biggest difference. Not only did they help us and our child, they also helped the teacher, aide, and the whole school team understand our autistic son better. Their insights, observations, and recommendations turned a difficult situation around, and their continued support since then has helped our son actually thrive and grow.”
~Christine (Mother of an 8 year old boy with Autism in Burbank, CA)
“My family has been so happy with the services we have received with VHAP.”
My family has been so happy with the services we have received with VHAP. The therapists and supervisor at VHAP really got to know my son. They built a warm, supportive relationship with him and responded with strategies that worked best for him, rather than using a “cookie cutter” model. They were very skilled at working collaboratively with the school and really helped the teachers better support my son and meet his needs. We so appreciate the valuable service VHAP has provided and are so excited that we will continue to have VHAP support as my son transitions to a new school.
~Emily (Mother of a 6 year old boy with autism in North Hollywood, CA)
“Chandler thrived alongside a staff of more experienced educational therapists and his team of VHAP Interventionists.”
Chandler’s Story – Parent Contribution by Chris Ingram
As a child who was diagnosed with high-functioning Autism (AKA, Asperger’s Syndrome), Chandler Ingram’s quirky mannerisms and direct line of thinking had made him the easy target for bullying and humiliation by teachers and peers in the public school system to the extent that he developed a ‘white-knuckling’ fear of going back to any educational facility.
Having a natural gift of rhythm and feeling completely at ease with pattern recognition and memorization, Chandler is a 10-year-old boy whose story of success is drawn from the power of music and the beat of the drum. He would often say, “When I get nervous because I don’t understand something, I begin tapping. And then the teacher and all the other kids yell at me for doing what comforts me. I can’t stand it!”
After unsuccessful attempts at various school relocations (which included special day programs and non-public schools), Chandler finally landed at a private facility near Studio City, California called, The Country School. The self-stimulating that Chandler was intuitively doing to calm himself would, at times, escalate to rocking and bumping into other kids and furniture around the classroom and playground, increasing the adverse reactions by those around him. However, once in this environment where acceptance of a child’s individuality was the norm, Chandler thrived alongside a staff of more experienced educational therapists and his team of VHAP Interventionists. Working on strategies and communication that helped him modulate and express his responses to reactions such as ‘being nervous,’ Chandler turned the ‘tapping’ into ‘drumming.’ Constantly picking up and playing beats he had heard on the radio or music he had found on the Internet, Chandler could always be found with his drum sticks on the playground at school.
One afternoon after school, another school parent came up to Chandler while he was drumming asking, “Hey, are you a drummer?”
“I sure am!” Chandler replied proudly.
This particular parent had been assigned to ‘coach’ the school rock band. So he asked Chandler, “Well, the fifth grade rock band needs a drummer. Can you play with us this afternoon?”
Without a moment’s hesitation, Chandler affirmed, “You bet I can!”
Chandler’s father arrived later to pick Chandler up from school. Having finished his first drum practice with the older kids and then seeing his dad walk on the campus, Chandler dropped everything and ran out to him yelling, “Dad! Dad! Guess who asked me to play in the school rock band, and now I’m their drummer!”
“Who buddy?” his dad replied.
“Duff from Guns and Roses! He’s the school’s rock coach! And we’re playing ‘Wild Thing’!” Chandler happily announced as he hugged his dad.
During the school’s band practices, Duff would often come up to Chandler’s parents praising that Chandler had such a natural gift behind the drum kit. In fact, he would say that he sees a lot of what’s inside his fellow musicians in Chandler even at such a young age. Chandler’s school band, called “The Blackflowers”, just finished their first gig in front of the entire school, to standing ovations and classmates screaming with excitement. (Footage available on YouTube.com.)
This summer, Chandler’s participating in Band Camps with his Black Sabbath cover band rehearsing on Thursdays, his Punk cover band rehearsing on Saturdays, Burbank Music Academy some weeks and Hollywood School of Rock other weeks. He’s promised to take some swimming classes as a balance to all the music too
Where the previous self-stimulating tapping was an annoyance that interfered with his education and social interactions, this high-functioning child found not only a way to calm his nerves, but found that a very special beat can carry him into serenity. A beat to a different drum, one he can call his own.
“Before RDI, we had very little hope for our son’s quality of life.”
Before RDI, we had very little hope for our son’s quality of life. We were told over and over again, by doctors and therapists in the field of autism, that since Marc had passed his 5 year “window of opportunity,” we should not expect anything more from him. My husband, and Marc’s three brothers, tried for years to build a relationship with him which only led to hurt and frustration. RDI gave our family the tools to interact with Marc on a whole new level. He is becoming part of the family instead of just “an outsider looking in.” This isn’t a once a week therapy, it’s a lifestyle that can be easily incorporated into everything you do. Marc is coming to life right before our very eyes and we, as a family, are helping to bring him there. We no longer feel helpless, and hopeless, when it comes to Marc’s future. With RDI training, some hard work, and patience there’s nothing that Marc can’t accomplish.
~Mother of a 17 Year Old Teen, Burbank CA
A Parent’s Choice for Autism Treatments
As a parent of a child with autism, I have tried several forms of reputable behavioral intervention approaches (as well as many approaches) in order to find the best fit for my child and family. While ABA has been a helpful treatment for some children with Austism Spectrum Disorder, it was not helpful for my child or family. After several years of intensive ABA, with little results, my child thrived with a developmental-relationship based treatment approach called Relationship Development Intervention (RDI) which has some simiarities to a DIR-Floortime model . As a result of this therapy, my child has been able to have friendships and be in a mainstream classroom with little to no other services. My child continues to make progress with this approach. RDI was instrumental in teaching my child joint attention and social engagement as well as how to communicate in meaningful ways with others. We still have more work but he will have more success in our society as a result of the RDI intervention. In addition, my child’s cognitive skills developed to the point that he was able to problem solve and learn abstract ways of thinking. My child has grown cognitively, socially, and emotionally and his behavior has drastically improved thanks to RDI. In 2011, the following 2 randomized, controlled studies on DIR-Floortime (Casenhiser D.M., Shanker S., Stieben J, 2011; Pajareya K, Kopmaneejumruslers K, 2011) showed statistically significant improvements in children with autism. Several more randomized, controlled studies on this treatment are nearing conclusion.
I am concerned that future insurance protocol will limit my choice as a parent to make an educated and informed decision on the best treatment for my child. ABA is not a good fit for my child or family and I am urging you to authorize other evidence-based behavioral interventions such as DIR-Floortime and RDI (Relationship Development Intervention) as eligible interventions under the new insurance guidelines.
I am also requesting that the government adopt the recommendations by the Institute of Medicine to update Essential Health Benefits based on new evidence about effective interventions.
~ Mara B., Parent of a child with autism