When Jaimee Beugelsdijk, Great Bend, came across some information about early intervention screenings, she called Sunflower Early Education Center (EEC).
“My only concern at the time was my son’s speech development,” Beugelsdijk recalled. “I discovered there were other concerns too – not just his speech.”
The screening occurred in March 2019. Early this year, John Beugelsdijk, now age 3, became the first participant in the Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) program for children up to age 5 who have an Autism Spectrum Disorder medical diagnosis.
John is making steady progress and his mom “can’t even imagine what would have happened without the early education center.”
Heather Quillin and McKinley Phillips did a complete developmental evaluation at the beginning of the EEC’s relationship with the family. Quillin is Sunflower children’s services coordinator and a speech/language pathologist; Phillips is an early childhood special education teacher.
“They asked many questions and were compassionate and professional,” Beugelsdijk said. “They gently told me there were more concerns as they made observations and I shared anecdotes. John was just shy of 2 years old then and autism was not mentioned at this point.”
The EEC does assessments and evaluations but it cannot diagnose. The staff stays in regular contact with the family and builds a rapport before taking the next steps a short time later.
“I was spinning after our meeting,” acknowledged Beugelsdijk, who has experience as an elementary school teacher. “I did a little research on my own and then just asked them about autism.”
The response was that autism was possible. That is when Alyson Burkhart became involved. Burkhart is the EEC’s autism specialist with 10 years of ABA experience.
At the time John was being evaluated, he exhibited a number of behaviors that caused concern.
“He had been saying some words and then quit saying anything. He wasn’t even babbling,” his mom said.
Repetitive behaviors included scraping pots and pans across the kitchen floor; removing items from cabinets and putting them back in; and turning lights on and off.
“There was no pretend play,” Beugelsdijk noted. “John saw a pattern and wanted to complete it, and had to have things done a certain way. He was inflexible and got hyper-focused on a task.
“John had very little interaction with his siblings and peers. For example, at the library he would play by himself in a corner while other children listened to the story.”
Prior to ABA becoming available here, Beugelsdijk completed specialized parent training at home, with EEC support. She learned new skills to help her son.
ABA services began early this year but the pandemic interrupted the regular schedule. Nevertheless, twice-a-week virtual home visits helped keep the family on the right track.
When John was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder, the developmental pediatrician in Wichita recommended 20 ABA hours a week. However, the family was told it would be an 18-month wait.
“But we knew the EEC was starting its own program,” Beugelsdijk said. “We are so lucky we moved here. If we were still in Manhattan, there would have been at least a year of waiting.”
John has made a lot of progress and now interacts with his 8-year-old brother and 6-year-old sister.
“John is asking for things with words again,” his mom said. “He talks and babbles all the time. He knows all his colors and shapes, along with some letters. And he can count.
“In some ways, John is exceptional. For instance, he does very, very well with memorization.”
Even though John is making progress socially, he prefers to play alone. He still turns lights on and off but doesn’t drag pots and pans anymore.
“The repetition is soothing and gives him some control over the situation. He is hitting milestones, just behind schedule.”
Beugelsdijk added that “it has been fun to watch all the things John can do. If we had had to wait for services, it would have been a huge deterrent to learning now and also a detriment to lifelong development.”
John is now at Helping Hands Preschool and “he loves it.” He continues ABA services through the EEC.
While some insurance companies cover ABA, the family’s policy does not. Therefore, they are paying out-of-pocket.