4-year-old Colin who was non-verbal when we met him, went from using aggression and tantrums as his way of communicating to independently using a communication device and adopting coping skills. All thanks to the hard work of Colin, a collaborative approach, and his committed family.
When we first met Colin and his family
When, Emily Urban, then a clinical specialist, first met 4-year-old Colin in 2020 prior to our East Valley Center in Mesa opening, his family was seeking services to help Colin learn to communicate, be independent and reduce his need to engage in aggression. With displays of aggression up to 7 times per hour, his family decided to pull him out of preschool and needed a place they could trust to appropriately support their child.
Having few ways to communicate, Colin would drag his family by the hand to attempt to indicate what he wanted. He also had difficulty accepting change. For example, if one of his beloved stuffed animals were missing, he would engage in a long tantrum that was difficult to manage. His family was eager to see Colin learn, communicate and be happier throughout his day.
Since Colin hadn’t had previous ABA services, the first step was to write a strong intervention plan and figure out how to start teaching skills he could use in place of engaging in challenging behaviors when trying to communicate his needs.
First steps of progress
Emily and Colin’s behavior technicians started with a picture exchange system as the first step in finding a way for him to communicate. With the advocacy of the speech therapy team, who were also brought into the coordinated plan, they were able to get Colin an AAC device and from there, he began to blossom! At last, he was finally able to communicate what he needed and could advocate for himself! Of critical importance to Colin? Being able to add stuffed animals to the device!
Next up was teaching Colin skills about how to cope with his feelings, adjust to change, and use his communication skills to connect to those around him.
So, the team zeroed in on Colin’s interests and have continued to use them in his therapy, for example:
In the past, Colin’s family expressed that he would become upset getting ready to go to preschool each day. However, within a couple of weeks of attending therapy at our East Valley Clinic, his parents reported that he was excited to come play with his team, grabbing his backpack (and even starting his own bath to get ready!) And these days, it no longer surprises them to find him a bit bummed on Saturdays when it isn’t a therapy day.
One of the new ways Colin has learned to deal with frustration is he can stomp his feet or squeeze his beloved Sonic the Hedgehog stuffed animal, rather than becoming aggressive. Sonic goes everywhere with Colin, and it isn’t just a toy, it is a critical coping mechanism for him.
Due to the positive changes for Colin, his family is now confident Colin can be successful in a variety of settings and he can communicate his needs effectively to connect with others. For example, going to his brother’s basketball games, safely sitting on grandparents’ laps, and making TikTok videos with his sister. His pre-teen sister has also become his own personal at-home therapist working with him on skills such as toileting, sorting items and writing; if he starts to get frustrated, his sister will say, “Well if I don’t do this with him, he will never learn.”
What’s Next for Colin?
Still in therapy 2.5 years later, the team is now supporting the family in having Colin begin school again. After touring schools with his mother, she has decided on a location, and the family is feeling confident in sending him now that Colin has self-help, communication, and coping skills. Colin will continue his work with us after school part time with focused ABA, speech therapy and OT.
More from Emily Urban, Senior Clinical Supervisor:
Colin’s story is why Emily Urban does what she does. When she was doing her bachelor’s degree, she was interested in counseling and identified how much she loved working with families. Seeing a job posting for a behavior technician role with us, she fell in love with the world of autism treatment. And from there, she went on to become a licensed behavioral analyst. When asked what it is about her field and role that motives her, Emily says:
“The science of ABA; to see the data to support what we’re doing. I get to work directly with the kiddo and have a strong relationship with the family; seeing the life-changing transformation means everything!”
Contact our Family Support Team if you would like to learn how to get started with Speech and Language Therapy or any other programs and services that we offer. Our Family Support Team is always available to help and is available at no charge to all members of the autism and developmental disability community. Schedule a free phone appointment that works with your schedule by visiting azaunited.org/supportcall
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