William Brereton’s grandmother took a quick video of her grandson playing while she was looking after him. When she sent it to his parents, Andrew and Michelle, it was one of the first times they recognized William’s atypical behaviors. “In the video he was inspecting a toy car and spinning its wheels,” Andrew Brereton recalls. At a routine visit, William’s pediatrician also noticed he was not hitting some milestones.
“We wanted to have early intervention to assess William, but even the pediatrician said you don’t want the diagnosis of autism because then he won’t be able to go to school normally,” Brereton recalls. The assessment showed that William did, indeed, have traits common to children with autism, and the Breretons wanted to get the very best care for their son.
A family friend whose son was treated for childhood apraxia of speech recommended Nancy Kaufman, Speech-Language Pathologist and Director of the Kaufman Children’s Center in West Bloomfield, sharing that she is “a world leader and just incredible,” says Brereton. On a weekend trip to Michigan, the family met with Kaufman, who agreed with the findings of William’s early assessment.
Because the Breretons were preparing for a move to California, Kaufman offered her best advice on how to get services in their new home state. Just after William’s assessment in California, the state shut down in response to COVID.
“As the pandemic went on, William’s autistic traits worsened,” Brereton says. “I couldn’t even walk into the supermarket with William. He wanted to be on an iPad constantly. He just wasn’t getting what he needed.” In California, virtual therapy and inconsistent services were not helping William advance or gain skills.
A move to Michigan
“We put our names on a waiting list with Kaufman and got a call saying they could offer us a place in February or March.” Brereton’s career offered work-from-anywhere flexibility, so in early February 2021, the family relocated to metro Detroit and met with Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) Sharita Horton, M.Ed. at Kaufman Children’s Center.
“Rita is one of the greatest human beings I have ever met. She is patient and understanding,” Brereton says, adding that Kaufman’s partnership approach actively seeks input on what skills are most important to the family — and helps a child master them through ABA therapy, speech and language therapy and occupational therapy. From brushing teeth to tolerating vegetables, Kaufman’s therapists help children build practical skills for better long-term outcomes. “They really listen to you as a parent and build a partnership with you,” Brereton says.
One year on, 4-year-old William tolerates supermarket visits and will relinquish the iPad. “He’s ‘in the room’ more, which is an expression that people familiar with autism understand,” Brereton says. “He’s gone from not wanting to be around anyone to accommodating attention from others.” And that includes his 2-year-old sister, Madison. “He doesn’t play with her but he tolerates her. The improvement has been significant.”
No limits to what William can achieve
William is largely nonverbal and, according to Brereton, “moderately to severely autistic.” Yet with the help of Kaufman Children’s Center, Brereton has learned not to set limits on what William can achieve. “Our hope is to help him get to some form of education, but we’re not going to set a limit on what that is. We will do whatever is best for William.”
Brereton acknowledges the challenges of operating under COVID, but when weighed against the overwhelming value of early intervention, he’s grateful for Kaufman Children’s Center’s support and for the decisions they made as a family. “We were giving William the best chance by moving. I say that wholeheartedly,” he says.
“You don’t ever think something like this is going to happen to you, but when it does, you recognize your responsibility,” Brereton says. “Don’t be scared of early intervention and don’t be scared of an autism diagnosis, because it can give you what you need to help your child.”