In honor of Autism Awareness Month, we sat down with several parents from the Arc’s Early Start Denver Model (ESDM) early intervention program at Childgarden Early Childhood Center. The Early Start Denver Model, or ESDM, is a curriculum used by St. Louis Arc therapists when interacting with children with an autism spectrum disorder. The program provides 1:1 therapy in a classroom type setting, but also includes a heavy parent component.

These parents are new to the ESDM program and all have children ages three and under with an autism diagnosis. They spoke candidly with us, sharing their unique perspective as parents who are still navigating the diagnosis of autism in their child, giving advice, suggestions, and hope.

Advice to Other Parents on Education and Self-Care:

“I cannot recommend intensive programs enough – I’ve learned so much. I’ve learned how to cope with my child’s specific behaviors and what motivates him. I’ve also gained background information on autism. It’s exhausting, but this type of program is imperative to families.”

“Try to make time for yourself as parents, because you are always on call. Make sure you have time for your relationships, because being a parent of any child with special needs means you can lose yourself, you can lose your relationship, and you can lose your spouses. It taxes you.”

Suggestions to Navigate the System:

“It’s important to find out what resources are available. Every once in a while there have been concerns, new issues, and things are always changing. As it is with any issue with your child, the general lack of knowledge, and not knowing, is such a big. What helps us with a diagnosis of autism in our child is to find and use every resource we have available.”

“It’s ok to get a 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th opinion and to push for the resources you need.”

“Find your dream team, the right doctor, the right therapist, the right support system.”

Experiences with Therapy and the ESDM Program:

“My approach is to know everything that is happening and getting an explanation. Doctors give the diagnosis, which can be overwhelming, but they aren’t able to treat these children directly. Then we come to the Arc and the therapists are taking kids and teaching them how to talk and to communicate.”

“The communication parents receive from the therapist has been amazing. We are able to read and learn what they are doing in class and implement the techniques at home.”

“When we first got the diagnosis I started peeling myself away from everything, I quit everything. Then when we started therapy, we met other parents going through similar things and you end up building a network of support. You don’t feel as alone.”

Final Thoughts to Share with Other Families:

“I just want people to know as scary, as challenging, as stressful, as intimidating as it can be, it’s so worth it. Every minute my baby giggles or smiles, the times when we go to bed and he signs I love you, they just melt my heart and make me smile. I can’t wait to hear my baby talk to me, I can’t wait to hear the words come out of his mouth, and now after participating in ESDM, I finally believe that will happen. And that’s not something I believed for a long time.”

“If you are given that diagnosis – Autism – start Googling ESDM. There are so many types of ABA therapy, but I believe the work at the Arc and Childgarden is the best. I can say it with gusto because I’ve spent hours upon hours researching where my son is going to get better the fastest and I feel like I’m in such good hands here.”

The St. Louis Arc is grateful to the parents who shared their experiences with us for Autism Awareness Month. To learn more about the ESDM program or ABA Therapy, contact Theresa Strothkamp, Director of Behavior and Autism Services, at 314-817-2258.