April’s Story

Hi there!

If you are visiting my site, chances are you are a parent seeking answers and support for your child with autism or a related brain-based disorder. I think it’s important you understand my journey so you have a good idea of my educational background, philosophy and motivations for working with children and families.

I believe children want to do well and even those who have neurological challenges can flourish if we provide the appropriate learning opportunities, emotional safety, and sensory input to organize the nervous system. In my work with families I have trained and certified in various approaches that aim to get to the root of neurological challenges, resulting in improved function for people of all ages and ability levels. It is my intention to share what I have learned with parents and professionals so that children with autism can receive the most helpful and cost-effective therapies sooner, rather than later.

In The Beginning…

When I was in college I responded to an ad in a college newspaper and began babysitting a child with autism. Back then no one had heard of autism and information and resources were scarce. My initiation into the autism field was unusual compared to other students. Unlike many college kids that work with children with autism, I was not recruited by a behavioral agency. I was hired by a private family who trained me in a variety of methods.

If one approach didn’t work, we tried something else. As a result, I did not become indoctrinated into the myth that there is only one ‘right’ way to teach children with autism. Instead, I maintained a clear focus on doing what worked for the child, rather than shutting out other therapy options due to a narrow-minded commitment to a specific therapy approach. In other words, I was not “married” to any one particular modality.

about-april-1I bonded with a little girl with autism who became my driving force to search for the best, most effective therapies available. We connected on a level beyond words, and to this day we have a close relationship. She is my inspiration to continue to support individuals with autism to the best of my ability. Her family’s journey to help her become a part of this world was educational for me as a professional supporting other families. I do my best to maintain a big picture perspective and help families prioritize goals that will have the best results for long-term quality of life and independent functioning.

about-april-2 Reflecting back on my autism journey and education, I can clearly see that my experiences followed a trajectory of mastering awareness of the mind, body and spirit. In the earliest years, therapy approaches I trained in were focused on cognitive development and communication (Mind). Then I became aware of the role of body organization and neurosensorimotor functioning (Body). In 2007 I experienced a spontaneous spiritual awakening, some of which I shared in Sheree Keys’ book, Finding Fulfillment in the Spiritual Age.

Now my work continues to develop the spiritual-energetic understanding of autism, while helping families integrate all three levels of Mind-Body-Spirit in a practical and user-friendly way.

Mind

In college I trained in various forms of Applied Behavioral Analysis (DTT, NET, Verbal Behavior) as well as social skills programs. Typically these early methods of ‘training’ children yielded very limited real-world results. While the children would respond when prompted, and I could check off skills on the list, I did not see independent use of communication and social skills.

Some kids became compliant but I still felt like they were not really seeing me as a person and connecting with me. Others resisted and had severe negative reactions to approaches that were based on control and manipulation. I felt behaviorism was very limited in building trust, internal motivation, and it also tended to undermine the parent-child relationship when parents were told to hand over control of their child’s programming to the ‘experts’.

I observed parents who felt helpless and incompetent when the behavioral therapists left, because the model encouraged the child to bond and relate to the therapist rather than the parent. I also saw teaching methods applied to children with autism that would never be allowed for ‘neurotypical’ children…something that disturbs me to this day, because it still goes on.

As I continued to explore my career interests, I was fortunate to witness a tremendous amount of speech therapy, behavioral therapy, occupational therapy and tutoring before deciding to pursue my degree in Communication Sciences and Disorders. I decided to move to Tallahassee, FL and attend Florida State University, where my intention was to work with Dr. Amy Wetherby and become a Speech-Language Pathologist.

about-april-3By the time I graduated from my Communication Disorders program, I had 7 years of experience working with children with autism. I chose Speech Pathology because I thought that was what you did if you wanted to work with children with autism. Every child with autism I knew had a Speech Therapist, so I decided I would pursue that route.

My life plan changed the year I graduated and was on track to go into a PhD program. I was working privately with a family who had their child assessed by Dr. Gutstein, founder of Relationship Development Intervention (RDI®). We implemented his approach in a home-based program and saw profound changes in this child.

At that point I had experienced every version of home-based autism therapy that I was aware of, and none of them had the kind of impact I was seeing with the RDI Program. I realized that the traditional approach to measuring progress in terms of length of about-april-4 utterances and number of words was not meaningful with children with autism. I also realized that becoming a speech pathologist would not help me address the developmentof parent-child emotional feedback at all, and as a speech pathologist I would not be trained to understand the nonverbal and psychological component of what was happening in the relationships of parents and children with autism. At this point, I took a leap of faith and became the first Certified RDI Consultant in my state.

(For more details of my early experience with autism and RDI®, you can read My Baby Can Dance, edited by Dr. Steven Gutstein).

Body

Judith Bluestone
Judith Bluestone

The same year I completed certification in RDI I met a woman named Judith Bluestone, who founded the HANDLE® Institute. She developed a program that addressed deeper neurological issues and I began referring some of my challenging cases to her. I was impressed with the results of her work and decided to get certified in her approach to address more of my clients’ needs.

After HANDLE training I could clearly see the even the most subtle impact neurological inefficiencies were having for the children I worked with.

about-april-6
Dr. Miller

At that time many of the children that were coming to me were experiencing significant sensory and motor challenges that interfered with their ability to respond or participate in educational and relational interventions. The more severely affected children were getting stuck in the relational work and I found that HANDLE supported developmental foundations that helped them move beyond their plateau. I mentored with Judith until her passing in 2009 and I am so grateful I was given the opportunity to apprentice to her.

In 2009 I learned about the work of Dr. Arthur Miller, a psychologist, and his wife Eileen, a speech-language pathologist. Together they created an approach for young children with autism that utilizes movement and body organization to improve early learner’s skills and functional communication. I was fortunate to be able to train with Dr. Miller before he passed away. I prefer the Miller Method to the more popular behavioral model, because he focused on helping children learn to think and process differently, rather than recite rote (and often meaningless) information. Dr. Miller’s cognitive-developmental approach can help disorganized children with autism create meaning and develop symbolic functioning, which is necessary for speech and language development.

Most recently I have trained with Dr. Svetlana Masgutova, learning her reflex integration protocol. With her Masgutova Neurosensorimotor Reflex Integration (MNRI®) program, I have observed very specific improvements in the areas of emotional connection, empathy, self-regulation, internal motivation, self-awareness and perspective-taking. I’ve also found that very specific components of her program yield big results for children with autism, and I strategically incorporate her work into home programming.

Spirit

In 2007 I began to perceive subtle energy and I received information I could not know about children I was working with. Spontaneous physical and emotional healings occurred that I could not explain, and which were not consciously intended. I had many significant life-altering experiences that I could not explain with my rational mind, and my colleagues who were present with me during these events could not explain it either. The ability to sense and move energy was also transferred to parents I was working with, and they began to be able to connect with their children on a deeper, and more spiritual level.

As I began to using coaching with my work with parents, it became more clear that a process of entrainment occurred, where mothers were displaying similar patterns of sensitivity and awareness to their children that defied traditional expectations. As this happened more and more, I began to integrate spiritual support into the already integrated home programming I was providing for families. Now I provide families with multiple tiers of training and service, incorporating coaching and consultation in various effective strategies and tools that support children with autism to reach higher levels of function and long-term success.

A miracle is defined by A Course in Miracles as “a change in perception”. I can honestly say that I witness miracles most days that I serve families and children with autism, and so do my clients.

Autism Evolution

We are evolving into a multidimensional view of autism, which considers various levels of function, rather than viewing autism as a result of a single cause. Autism support is evolving into a parent-based holistic model, and away from a model that separates parents from their children under the assumption the ‘experts’ know better. No one knows your child better than you. You can learn to integrate simple, yet effective strategies and tools that support your child, yourself, and your entire family through Integrated Mind-Body-Spirit-based programming.

I hope this gives you some understanding of my autism journey so far. If you would like to schedule a time to learn more about parent training and how you can help your child, schedule a free consultation here.

It is my sincere wish for you and your child that you are always provided with a clear and direct path to your ultimate goal of joy and connection, and that the right providers and support will be presented to you at every step of your journey. No matter where you are in the world, remember you are not alone.