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Easter Seals Story: Connecting and Communicating with My Son

Danielle C. Dallo of Southfield felt lost and alone in her efforts to connect with her son, Daniel, who has autism. But with help from Easter Seals Michigan, she and Daniel have made huge strides.

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"Before, he didn't play with us and he didn't talk to us," remembers Dallo. "But we've learned to let him lead the play and then we join in. Now we're playing with him and having fun with him, not just standing around. We're actually playing together as a family."

Saying 'goodbye'

Having feedback and ideas on tapping into Daniel's world has been key to making greater strides. Daniel shares many of the same interests as his peers. He's an avid Thomas the Train fan and loves watching episodes of The Octonauts. Swinging and playing soccer are two of his favorite outdoor activities. And Play-Doh is his ultimate reward – preferred over just about anything else.

But unlike his peers, his schedule never changes, ever. He gets up early and goes to bed early, usually rising between 4 or 5 a.m. and turning in around 7:30 p.m. "Once he's up, he's going strong the minute his feet hit the floor," laughs his mom. "He doesn't take naps either. Never has."

With work from Easter Seals and his parents, his language skills have grown over time.

"When Daniel started the P.L.A.Y. Project, he didn't speak. Not one word," says Dallo. "He had been taught a few things in early interventions. He could do some signing. But I'd never heard him say, 'Mommy,' 'Daddy,' 'Goodbye,' or 'I love you.'"

Those words slowly began coming as Dallo learned how to interact with Daniel.

"I still remember the first time he went to school and he turned and said, 'Goodbye, Mom.' He was 4." Dallo said goodbye to Daniel and then went to her car where she recalls, "I just sat there and broke down in the parking lot and cried. I'd waited so long to hear him say those words."

At 4½, Daniel reached another language milestone. "He was able to tell me, 'Mom, I love you,'" says Dallo. "Turns out now he says 'I love you' to a lot of people. But he can tell you now how he feels. He can't always explain what it's about, but he can tell me, 'I'm mad,' or 'I'm sad.'"

Today, Dallo is confident that her son will continue to develop, especially with the help of Easter Seals and Miss Kathie. "I can really say 100 percent that the ideas Kathie gave me made all the difference."

Halloween on the spectrum

For kids on the autism spectrum, Halloween can be especially challenging. Many of the traditions – like getting together in big groups and having unfamiliar foods – can be difficult for them. Kathie Klingensmith, Children's Developmental Therapies and Services Supervisor for Easter Seals Michigan, and Danielle C. Dallo, a parent of a child on the autism spectrum, share their thoughts and tips:

  • Help in the classroom: Dallo says volunteering in her son Daniel's school class when they have parties helps him enjoy the experience and keep calm.
  • Plan your own low-key party instead: "For Halloween, what I usually do is go to the cider mill during the day and get a few things to have as treats at home," says Dallo. "We invite over a few close cousins and have a very small party with donuts, cider and treats."
  • Trick-or-treat at friends' homes: "If we do trick-or-treat, we go to people's homes that Daniel knows – people that he's familiar with," suggests Dallo. "We don't just go door-to-door."
  • Give treats beforehand: Many kids on the spectrum are on special diets, so they can't eat some common Halloween treats. "Parents can go to people's homes before your child trick-or-treats and give them treats your child can eat to hand out to your child," Klingensmith advises.
  • Go to parties early: Big crowds can overwhelm Daniel. When it comes to holiday gatherings, Dallo asks if she can arrive early. Her family is then there to greet guests but can slip out once the house is full.
  • Let them be in another room: "I think one important point is to not force kids to be a part of everything. It's OK if they're in another room then the rest of the group," Klingensmith says of group gatherings. She also says it's OK to just say "no" and not go, especially if going will increase the parent's anxiety.

Easter Seals Michigan serves and supports people with disabilities or special needs and their families, so they can successfully live, learn, work and play in their communities. Easter Seals has been serving Michigan residents since 1920.

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