In less than a year in our Clinical Family Coaching program, 14-year-old Zander and his family went from living a life experienced through Zander’s impulsiveness, fits of uncontrollable rage and regular elopement to awareness of emotions, a fast-growing ability to self-regulate and most recently, a fun-filled and stress-less family vacation.
For many years, the family adjusted as well as possible to Zander’s autism. With Zander’s Dad a former RBT, they had quite a lot of awareness of techniques that helped. But as Zander got older, the behaviors became much harder to manage. According to his mother, Heather, life became smaller and smaller for them, “No one could have a life. No one could feel safe. He couldn’t be left with his sister or grandmother in case he lost control. We couldn’t go to other people’s houses. It was utterly isolating.”
Living in Las Vegas at the time but in search of better schools, Heather reached out to AZA’s Family Support Team for help with possible resources were they to move to Phoenix. Her first conversation (and several subsequent ones) was with Nia Uhlenake, the current supervisor of the Family Support Team. She recalls that talking to Nia was, “helpful and comforting and allowed us hope.” In one of these many conversations, the Clinical Family Coaching Program was first mentioned.
Throughout the years, they tried the most recommended therapies, including ABA, as well as some more out-of-the box treatments. Zander’s mother recalls that when they made the decision to home-school him and the behavior continued anyway, her new reality hit her, “I’m losing my boy,” she thought.
The breaking point for the family is an evening which remains seared in their memory. Zander, who was still experiencing the effects of trauma from the school he had recently been attending, exploded in rage and violence when it was time for him to put down the remote control. Heather recalls the spiraling that went on for an excruciating 90 minutes, “It was like he saw ‘red’ and he felt out of control.” Turning on this father first with physical blows to his head, he then went after his mother. His parents desperately tried to regain control of the situation, but his 8-year-old sister also bore the brunt of his rage as he physically attacked her as well, which he had never done before.
Not a client of AZA yet, they re-engaged with ABA after they moved to Phoenix. The technician that they were working with them left that organization…to join AZA United! Already familiar and comfortable with AZA’s approach to family support, the family reconnected with AZA. And the CFC program just happened to come up again. The family was more than ready and started the program August of 2022. Above all else, Heather says, “I wanted my children to be in a loved and nurtured space.”
For Heather, CFC was the game-changer to end all game-changers. In a space of 9 months, remarkable change occurred. Whereas the norm for Zander had been rage, elopement, and impulsiveness, he is now a much more aware and empathetic young man. This is a complete 180-degree change. Heather explains:
“He has an understanding of his own emotions plus other people’s emotions. He wants to know whether something is wrong or right – if you’re okay.” Even more amazing is how minimal his aggression is now. If he gets upset and sees it, he calms down and self-regulates. He has his own calming strategies."
Simply put, says Heather, “He’s a different kid. And it has worked for the whole family.” These days, it’s not uncommon for people who have previous experience with Zander, to stop her and say, “The change [in Zander] is amazing’.” The family finally feels a liberation to their isolation. They can now socialize with others, go out in public and live their lives.
On a recent family vacation at an indoor water park, the change in Zander was evident to all. He stayed near his family, and he listened to and communicated with them. These are behaviors they could not have imagined before the CFC program. When asked what she’d like to share with other parents going through a similar situation, her response is an impactful and passionate one:
“We have struggled for 13 long years to find the right type of support for our family; the heart-support, the caring style – the kind that AZA has. With CFC, we have seen immediate changes…this is the ONE thing that made the biggest progress and difference we have ever had.”
What does the future hold? Since Zander loves physical activities, they’re looking into getting him a trainer, perhaps a class on drawing (he has a natural talent) and they are even thinking about what the next steps might be for returning to school. Whatever path they choose, Heather feels the CFC program taught her new ways to parent: ones that are authentic to who she is but also supports her entire family. As they prepare to transition out of the program, she is full of emotions, “Our team was phenomenal. I cried every time I thought of it ending!” Above all else, her heart is filled with gratitude and the deep hope that other families may experience this level of change as well.
Contact our Family Support Team if you would like to learn how to get started with Clinical Family Coaching 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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