Dan and Amy Smith are the parents of two children, a boy named Grayson and a girl named Avaery. Grayson was diagnosed with ASD approximately one year ago, and we asked Dan if he would share their story for this month’s “Story of Hope”.
“Grayson was a totally normal baby boy – in fact, he almost seemed advanced in his development.”, Dan recounts. “He said his first word, “Dad”, at 13 months, and quickly picked up many other words.” Around 20 months, however, he seemed to drop words that he was commonly using. At checkups, Doctors told the family that this was common – that children will find other words that are more fun to say and drop ones that they have been using frequently.
“But around the age of 2, Grayson started humming instead of using words”, Dan said. Not knowing the cause, they took him in for a checkup. They discovered that there was fluid behind his ears. Given his symptoms, they were recommended to go to a speech therapist for further tests. After the initial evaluation, they were advised to have Grayson tested for Autism Spectrum Disorder.
The Smith’s quickly realized that the waiting lists to get Grayson tested were long. They applied to 2 different waiting lists (at the advice of their provider) because they were so long, and hoped for the best. After a few months of waiting, they were contacted and told that there was an opening for Grayson to be tested.
Shortly thereafter, the family noticed that Grayson used an ASL sign at dinner that they hadn’t used in a very long time, and they realized that this might be a breakthrough for helping his communication. For the next couple of months, they then focused on ASL learning and had progress – Grayson had learned over 40 signs in the month between the test and the results alone. “He then proceeded to blow us away with what he could do with numbers by memorizing every house address from our home to a coffee shop a mile away. He was soon able to count well into the 100’s and even the 1000’s.”
On New Year’s Eve 2017, the Smith’s received a letter saying that their son was trending toward being on the Autism Spectrum, and that Kindering was offering at-home speech therapy services through Dan’s insurance provided Microsoft, where he is a Video Game Producer.
ABA Therapy was recommended – and the family found a number of clinics but waiting lists were long. They again applied at several places and were recently accepted at Lakeside (Now called ICAN) in Issaquah.
Dan says, “Fast forward… Grayson is 3 ½ now and 4 weeks ago, words just started tumbling out of him. He can now form very creative sequences of words that keep us well entertained such as “babies don’t fix their shirts” and “knock, knock, trick or treat, get candy, bye bye, next house.”
Dan knows that their family’s experience is not typical. Because of the early-adoption and broad support of ASD benefits at Microsoft, the Smith’s have been fortunate to move through the process rather quickly and smoothly. However, Dan has seen first-hand that there are many families who struggle with access to programs because of their lack of employer-provided insurance support. He sought out WAAA to help make sure that all of the great programs that WAAA produces and promotes continue so that his son can take part in them when he is older, and that the community is well-supported.
Dan has helped foster the Aspire Girls and Friendship Matters programs through WAAA by allocating the Xbox Gaming for Everyone Lounge and allowing groups to come in and play video games and ask questions about video game development. Joining support groups, including the Xbox Autism Committee and Inclusive Hiring Program at Microsoft, which hires adults with ASD, Dan is also helping to shape a bright future for Grayson and other individuals with ASD.
“Games are entertainment but also an artistic, interactive medium that can also be therapeutic.” Dan says. In the first session, they were prepared for a very excited group, but it was actually subdued and created a calming, welcoming experience. In fact, Dan was told by a parent that it was the first time a couple of the participants had ever spoken, which was especially rewarding. It’s important for Dan that families know they are also invited to create that inclusive family time. He loves that this program is able to provide such a positive social experience for families. The goal is to have them at least quarterly, if not more often.
When asked what are the ways that he thinks WAAA is preparing Washington for children with Autism, he says, “The most important work is probably helping families navigate through insurance barriers. Fundraising, the yearly walk, friendship matters and aspire girls are also critical for getting the kids to connect socially with others in their community.”