Ethan is succeeding after multi-disciplinary treatment
When Ethan was 3 years old, he could barely speak and would interact only with his toy dinosaur, Barney. His parents, Alan and Theresa, never suspected autism until a family doctor suggested that they have Ethan evaluated by experts at Packard Children's Hospital.
Packard psychologist Mendy Boettcher, PhD, conducted a series of tests before confirming Ethan's diagnosis. "We were dreading the diagnosis, but we needed to know," Theresa remembers. "Stanford is so well respected. It was our tool for going to the school district and saying, this child needs help now with special education and therapy."
Ethan is one of hundreds of children who come to Packard each year for evaluation and treatment for autism spectrum disorders—a family of neurological conditions that range from severe autism, where the patient might not speak or show affection, to Asperger's syndrome, a milder disorder where the child is socially awkward and often displays abnormal or repetitive behaviors.
"Autism spectrum disorders affect about 1 in 150 children in the United States," says Carl Feinstein, MD, the Endowed Director of Psychiatry at Packard and director of the Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at the Stanford School of Medicine. "That's a higher incidence rate than juvenile diabetes, childhood cancers, and Down syndrome combined."
Following Ethan's diagnosis, Theresa returned to Boettcher's office for weekly instruction in Pivotal Response Training. "Ethan really took to Dr. Boettcher,'' Theresa recalls. "She started by getting on the floor and playing side by side with him. She would elicit language from him by holding onto things that he wanted and saying, 'Do you want to play with this? What color is this?' And Ethan would struggle and struggle to respond. It was just play, but it was so much more. I was amazed to see the language and the participation that she was able to draw out of him just by getting into his world a little bit."
Theresa applied her new training at home, and also enrolled Ethan in the special education and speech therapy programs offered by his school district. Now, three years later, 6-year-old Ethan is able to speak in complete sentences and is beginning to ask questions about other people and places.
For Theresa, the comprehensive care she received at Packard Children's Hospital proved to be the key strategy to Ethan's success. ''I can't imagine a parent trying to do everything without a place like Packard,'' she says.