Michael and Nadia – a Special Connection

DSC_0238Michael is your typical 10-year-old boy. He likes playing outside and being active. He likes things with wheels, especially fire trucks and trains. And, he loves to play with his brothers. Michael has autism.

When he was first diagnosed, there was a long waiting list to receive services, but parents, Rachel and Jeff, persevered. As they waited, Michael’s BCFR support coordinator referred the family to Cedar Creek Riding Center where the family ended up meeting someone who would change their lives.

Michael’s mom talks about the first time they met Nadia, Michael’s Home-Based Support Services (HBSS) provider. “Nadia was a volunteer at Cedar Creek Riding Center when she met Michael. At the time, Michael had very little spontaneous language and rarely made eye contact. Nadia kept talking to him throughout the rides. She sang songs to him. She never gave up on him.”

Rachel kept in contact with Nadia over the years and when Michael aged out of Thompson Center supports, she jumped at the chance to have Nadia work with Michael as his HBSS provider. With Nadia’s help, Michael has shown tremendous progress with spontaneous language and can ask questions or let his parents know what he wants and needs which makes life a bit easier for the family.

Michael’s greatest method of learning is facilitated through his BCFR-purchased iPad. Using the device as a communication tool along with a specialized application called Sono Flex, Michael builds sentences through the use of pictures which the iPad then reads back to him. Once he hears the sentence read back to him, he can repeat the sentence.

Michael also loves to take lots of videos with his iPad. He has excellent visual memory, so when Nadia wants to work on a program with him, they first create a video of Michael completing the task in question. Once he’s seen himself complete the task, he can explain that activity and answer questions about it when quizzed. Michael even has his own private YouTube channel so he can watch all his videos whenever he wants.

An example of one of her programs, when Rachel was about to have another baby, Nadia worked with Michael on a program about riding in an elevator, which Michael was terrified of doing, so that he was able to visit Mom and new brother in the hospital. Through the use of social stories and video modeling with the iPad, Michael now loves to ride elevators and looks forward to new opportunities to do so.

“Michael responds really well to Nadia,” says Rachel. “Michael and Nadia go everywhere together. During the school year, Michael goes to a regular gymnastics class at The Authority with Nadia. She also takes him to Cosmo Park and during the summer, they go swimming at least once a week.” Michael is also a frequent visitor to the Columbia Fire Department where Nadia’s brother works.

Throughout all their fun adventures, Nadia is “sneaking” in an educational component, working tirelessly with Michael on developing language and social skills. Core words, the words that make up 80 percent or more of everyday language, is what they have recently been spending time perfecting. Core words are harder to teach because they are often not concrete items that can be easily illustrated through pictures. But between the videos and stories on the iPad, their hard work has paid off as Michael now has many more core words than he had just a few months ago.

Rachel and Jeff can appreciate the results Nadia achieves with Michael as he becomes more comfortable with many new experiences that other families may take for granted. The day Rachel was interviewed for this report, she was proud to say that with Nadia’s help, Michael was getting ready for his first-ever trip to the dentist after much preparation with another one of Nadia’s programs. “I don’t know what we’d ever do without her,” says Rachel. “She’s been wonderful for Michael.”