Abel was diagnosed with autism when his mother was less than three weeks away from their second son’s due date. When Josiah was born, the doctors told the parents that because of Abel’s diagnosis and Josiah’s gender that he, too, had a greater chance of having autism.

“When we started having issues with Abel we were lost,” said Rachel, “We were first-time parents and had absolutely no idea what was going on with him. The great thing about these ladies (from Northwest AEA) is that I could tell them all the things we struggled with on a day-to-day basis, and they would help come up with ideas to try and help.”

The ladies that Rachel was referring to include Northwest AEA employees Kim Blankespoor, early childhood special education teacher/consultant; Amy Legg, speech-language pathologist; and Vicky Meyer, occupational therapist, along with Rock Valley Community School District preschool teachers.

Rachel and her husband, Jon, said one of the biggest challenges for Abel from the beginning was his anxiety. His parents couldn’t take him anywhere, or have anybody over, without him becoming so anxious that it would lead to a meltdown. So, with the AEA team, they taught Rachel and Jon to prepare him with pictures. She said that almost immediately his anxiety levels improved. 

“To this day, we do our best to prepare him with any changes to his routine with visuals, and that works great for him,” reported Rachel. “At school, the team is working on expanding his communication, establishing routines, and also helping with social and play skills.”

The AEA team also assisted when Josiah showed sign of speech delay. They also discovered that he was behind in some social and emotional development. The AEA team, along with the parents, worked with him to get him to learn how to  imitate, and also to establish some back-and-forth play. They would gave the parents ideas on how to play with him, and how to get him to involve his parents with his play. 

“Once we got some of those issues figured out, then we could really work on ways to promote speech,” Rachel said. “He’s still somewhat developmentally behind in some areas, but we are hopeful that with him in a classroom full of talking kids, and with the help of the teacher, paraprofessionals, and the speech therapist, we will see him bridge that gap, between other kids his age very soon.”

Rachel and Jon have been tremendous advocates for their sons and have done an excellent job of implementing what they have learned from the AEA. Their boys are both seeing good improvements and the parents are more comfortable in their roles.

“When we heard them say Abel had autism we were so scared and had no idea what to do next, or how to help our son,” Rachel reflected. “But the staff at the AEA was so great and helped us through many challenges. Between both of my sons, I have been working with the staff at the AEA for a few years now, and we can’t thank them enough for all they have done for our family.”