Mental Health Expert Lauren Thome
Back in 2006, as an undergraduate student at Rutgers University, Lauren Thome discovered her life’s passion: working with children affected by autism and other developmental disabilities. In completion of an internship in her psychology program, Lauren was placed in an ABA classroom for children with autism — and from that point forward, she knew she wanted to devote her time and energy to making the world a better place for children like those she came to know in that classroom.
“I believe that with the right support in place, there can be growth and nurtured independence within every stage of development.”
Since then, Lauren completed her master’s degree in educational psychology with an emphasis in early childhood education at the University of Colorado, and went on to work as an early childhood mental health specialist/ interventionist with families affected by autism and other developmental disabilities. She quickly realized that Colorado, her home state, needed an organization led by field-experienced experts to advocate for, support, and empower families affected by autism. In 2009, she and a group of other women joined forces in their desire to start a revolution in Colorado’s special education programming, and founded Garden | Autism Services of Colorado. The organization currently provides services to individuals with ASD, Asperger’s and PDD, as well as those with dual diagnoses.
I Would If I Could
By Lauren Thome
Such a simple, yet powerful phrase, “I would if I could.” These five words epitomize every struggle, stumble, fall, and failure that children with autism and other developmental disabilities experience every single day. It is almost as if you can feel it as you look into their eyes, every time you ask them a question or witness them attempt a simple task: “I would if I could.”
Like a bud ready to blossom, this is how I view children with autism. I see the potential. I know that there is a beautiful, capable, and independent flower ready to sprout and grow as if they had never missed a beat. I know this because I have experienced it firsthand.
Jared was a five-year-old boy, dually diagnosed with autism and Down syndrome. His parents were told that he was at the developmental age of a one-year-old and wouldn’t go far beyond that. He was unable to communicate, had difficulty walking, and presented threatening self-injurious behaviors. To many, he looked to be hopeless.
It took three months for me to break into the shell Jared had built up. It began with working around Jared and his undying love for pencils. We rolled pencils back and forth for hours hoping to develop a relationship with him that required trust from both of our ends. I attempted to utilize every moment with Jared as a learning opportunity. Soon enough he was able to sign “more” and “all done.” From that moment on, it was as if Jared became a different child. He learned that he had control over his environment and could communicate a simple need in a way that others could actually understand. This was something that Jared had never experienced before.
From day one, to me, Jared was capable. To many others, Jared became capable the day he learned to communicate. And it didn’t stop there; he began using picture symbols to identify and communicate his preferences. Eventually he was able to verbalize “more,” as well as “all done.” With the expansion of his language came the expansion of his interests. Jared moved away from pencils as they suddenly became mundane. His new interests were in balls. Jared could throw, roll, bounce, and kick the ball. Yes, he could kick the ball!
Of course, these newly acquired skills did not come without trials and tribulations. Through Jared’s struggles, I struggled. When Jared succeeded, I succeeded. Because we approached Jared’s potential for development with an unconventional view, I, along with his parents and support team, witnessed breakthroughs that otherwise would have been unimaginable.
Jared, like so many children with autism and other developmental disabilities, experiences the world in a different way. To me that does not resemble a disability, but rather, an ability. To find those abilities we must dig, knowing we will eventually find the seed, and there will be growth. You must know that if they could, they would—it is a seemingly small truth, but it changes everything.