Less than two years ago, Dakota was diagnosed with autism. But even before that, Dakota’s parents, Lacey and Jason, knew that something wasn't right with her development. Dakota had been hitting regular development markers – crawling, walking at 9 months old, and babbling like crazy. In fact, Dakota’s first word was “Addie”, the family’s pet cat.
Suddenly, the verbal noises stopped and her parents weren’t sure why. They just assumed it was because Dakota didn’t want to speak and that it would pick back up. Other clues, such as sensory issues, not playing with her favorite toys like they should be played with, a lack of pretend play, zoning out, and not making eye contact convinced them to take action.
At 18 months, Dakota’s pediatrician recommended that she get tested for autism. When the doctor confirmed the diagnosis of autism, her parent’s hearts were broken because they knew so little about the disorder. The doctor explained very little about the diagnosis or options for early intervention therapy to provide the best opportunity for Dakota’s future success. Lacey and Jason did their own research and began providing Dakota with developmental therapy.
About 10 months later, they found the Autism Treatment Center through Lacey's employer, Minnie Caruth, a long-time friend and supporter of the Autism Treatment Center. Years ago, Minnie had learned of a research program at ATC called PlayWisely and suggested that Lacey contact ATC to see if this would be a good fit for Dakota.
“Honestly, I didn’t think it would work but I was willing to try anything to help my daughter. On her first visit, I saw her make eye contact (which was rare at the time). I saw her point to her daddy who had been trying to reach her for a month. It was one of the few times I saw her focus, sit still, and pay attention. As she sat in my lap, I tried to hide the tears rolling down my face. It was such a beautiful sight.”
Dakota comes to the Autism Treatment Center twice a week for PlayWisely sessions with Dr. Carolyn Garver and Dr. Janet Kern, the PlayWisely administrators. The sessions have been individualized to meet Dakota’s needs and to work on her specific delays in development.
Dakota has made remarkable progress. After two months in the study, Dakota now makes regular eye contact, has learned and uses 6 to 10 words, and interacts socially with other children. She play pretends and has made significant progress in her learning skills. Dakota even welcomes her therapist with hugs and smiles.
Dakota will continue to receive early intervention support and PlayWisely therapy. She still has sensory issues that need constant attention. With support from the Autism Treatment Center, Dakota will continue to grow and learn independence and self-sufficiency.
“I am impressed and blessed that we are a part of the PlayWisely study because of the growth I have seen in my daughter. Dakota may not be classified as “normal”, but honestly, who determines what normal is. She is special and perfect.”