We went for four days of assessment and training. For Alex, and for Kevin and I too. The Koegel Center believes in teaching the parents along with the kiddos, so that treatment can be delivered round the clock at home, and everyone is on the same page. A novel idea in a world of specialization where your kid with challenges is usually whisked away to private therapy, and parents are often seen as a bother. PRT is the title of their method, Pivotal Response Treatment. Developed by the Koegels, this treatment is both research based and highly effective. In September I attended their international PRT conference as both a parent and potential practitioner, and found the Koegel's to be the real deal. Myself, Alex's para-professional, and 300 others from the US and abroad learned in depth about the modality, and the latest research findings. In November our families number was finally up, and after waiting for two years to get into the Center we were able to plan a week long treatment visit. On the eve of February Winter Break we left on our journey.
What was it like? Well, the preparation process and the first day of testing and examination were like being ground up into hamburger. We went over every deficit our son has. He was a wreck, and so were his mom and dad. But we all got through it. The Center itself was calming. On the edge of the University of California, Santa Barbara campus, a sun washed quiet building surrounded by giant Eucalyptus trees. The staff were kind and prepared, expert and confident. The lead clinician and assessment director, Dr Ty Vernon, was adept at getting the best out of Alex. The panel of tests they chose covered every area of intellect, development, and cognition. Alex was given ample breaks, and quality cheer-leading. Kevin was in for every moment of the tests. I was in another room, reviewing every step of Alex's history, as well as all of his current functioning. While perfectly handled, the process was still exhausting, and we left the first day in a numb state. USCB is on it's own peninsula, completely self contained about 5 miles from Santa Barbara proper. We drove into town, and had a lovely meal at the original Sambo's restaurant. Then we went for a walk along the beach. Alex was already recovering and got his toes right in the ocean. He smiled and smiled, and we knew it would all be worth while. Our beach adventure finally ended when a small wave got our boy, he sat in the surf wet to the chest, and we all laughed and laughed.
The next morning Alex did not want to go back. He told me he did not like the tests because they were too hard. It had also been very hard on Kevin, watching Alex flounder in conceptual and spatial areas. Seeing exactly where deficits lie. It seems our boy is good at skating by what he cannot do, and redirecting into other areas. We may have been assuming too much, and not seeing the forest for the tree in front of us. Just what we needed to know, but hard to see so blatantly. Hard, but good. Day 2 actually went better than the previous day, less exhaustion as the testing wrapped up and excitement as we looked forward to getting to the training part. I had some break time to go out into campus, which was fun, and then came a big thrill for me. In the halls of the Center I ran into Dr. Lynn Koegel. The co-founder and clinical director of the Center. Dr of Educational Psychology and Speech Language Pathologist. Autism researcher for 20 years. Author of countless articles, manuals, and books. Also seen on Super Nanny. National and International expert in autism. I met her, and she is amazing. Kind, focused, intense, and interesting. We had a wide ranging conversation that covered Alex, autism, our family, education, PRT, and my own masters pursuits. During this time she met Alex as he went by with Kevin, and she conversed with him as well. You could see her awareness and focus hone in on him like a laser. An intelligent, experienced, and curious laser that relayed information to a highly specialized brain. Her eyes lit up, and as he traveled on with Kevin she commented to me that we had done very well with him.
We went to the beach at the end of Day 2. A beach near the university. We all breathed a huge sigh of relief. The testing was over, and we had survived. Two more days were to come, all tailored training for our whole family. Ty told us many things at the end of the day, but I had to file them away for that moment. I was too stunned at the conversation, comments, and assessment of Dr Koegel. "We had done very well with him." Like an arrow to my heart, it was what I had hoped to hear, and feared I would not. All the work and study, time and effort were paying off. My perceptions were not off. Our hopes had good basis. This from one of the leading lights in the field.
As we played on the beach I mulled it all over while Alex chased sea gulls and waves, and Kevin took pictures. The message I distilled from that day was that our sweet boy was doing fine, and we would find a way. A way to follow our dreams. Our parental dreams that our son will be able to have, make, and follow dreams of his own. The assessment was over, and the bright future lay ahead.