Caregiver Support
Makes the Difference

Wendy Hale can’t imagine raising her grandson, Cody, without Damar ABA Autism Services by her side.

“You can’t do this alone,” she said. “You can’t figure it out yourself. I don’t care if you have a doctorate degree, unless your degree is focused on children with disabilities.”

Cody reaching for candy Cody has attended Damar ABA Autism Services for more than five years. And that means not only that Cody has learned and grown, but also that Wendy has had ongoing support through the challenges and complications inherent to life with a nonverbal child with autism — including the reality that victories will be small and the challenges will continue.

“As a parent, a grandparent, whoever the caregiver is, you have to accept that this is a journey,” she said. “There is not a black-and-white end.”

A lively child who loves to go for walks (“Oh, my gosh, this child can walk and walk and walk,” Wendy said), Cody was barely three when he was diagnosed with autism, and the waiting list to get into Damar was nine months long. Until they could get a spot, Wendy got support from another provider, but she moved Cody to Damar as soon as possible. While she recognizes that a lot more providers offer ABA therapy now, she still recommends Damar to families facing an autism diagnosis.

“Damar’s been around for years … they stay aware of what’s going on, they stay aware of new things,” she said. “To me, the professionalism they have shown and the knowledge and understanding of autism is superb.”

Wendy also suggests that people just embarking on the autism journey simply soak up as much information as possible. In addition to Damar, sites and organizations like Autism Speaks, Easter Seals and Spark provide good resources, she said, as do other parents who already are on the journey.

Cody at a Christmas party “Learn everything you can,” she said. And then continue learning. Wendy said she still runs into challenges that prompt her to call the team at Damar and ask for guidance. If it’s a situation they haven’t encountered, they’ll ask their colleagues for insights, and then work with Wendy to address the problem.

Perhaps most important, she said, don’t assume autism puts a cap on your child’s potential. “Take your child for what your child can do, keep pushing them to do more and do better,” she said. “Just because your child has autism, it doesn’t mean your child is not capable of succeeding in life. They will just succeed in a different way.”

Wendy puts that mindset right out in front with Cody. He often wears a shirt that says, “Nonverbal doesn’t mean I don’t have anything to say. It means I say it in a different way.” While she hopes that Cody will someday be able to express himself with words, she knows that might never happen. But she also knows that he will grow in his own way, and Damar will help her guide that growth, regardless of the curveballs life might throw her.

“It’s all coming, but it all just takes time and it doesn’t happen overnight,” Wendy said. “Some days it’s hard to remember that.”