Although she’s only 6, Emma Hutchison knows herself and is very proud of all she’s accomplished.
“I’m really smart and I’m super good at math,” she said. “I’m a little bit of an artist.”
She loves to practice jiu-jitsu and is at the gym most days after kindergarten working on her skills.
Emma is also very honest about the things that are difficult for her.
When she feels angry or overwhelmed, she knows that she needs to go to her room, turn the lights down and use her noise canceling headphones and her weighted blanket until she feels calm.
She and her mom, Bonnie Newhall, are a team, talking openly about her autism diagnosis and the ways she experiences the world. They’ve worked hard over the years to create an environment where Emma can thrive.
It has not always been easy, Bonnie said. But it’s worth it seeing how far her daughter has come.
“We got interventions at every corner and avenue,” she said. “We want to help her thrive to her fullest potential.
When Emma was born, Bonnie recognized very quickly that she was very different from her older sister, who is neurotypical.
She was very sensitive to lights and sounds. Even as a 9-month-old she had no upper body strength.
After talking with their pediatrician, Bonnie, who lives in Johnstown, made a referral to Early Intervention.
Emma began receiving physical, occupational and speech therapy and worked with LCBDD Developmental Specialist Leigh Daniels.
Although Emma started walking at 16 months, she wasn’t talking and was diagnosed with expressive and receptive language disorders.
Bonnie also suspected that Emma was on the autism spectrum. But she wasn’t showing signs that are considered “typical.”
“Girls are sometimes different and difficult to diagnose,” Bonnie said.
For many years, it was believed that autism disproportionately affected boys.
But a 2019 study reported in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders found that autism spectrum disorder is likely equally common in males and females.
There is growing evidence that the procedure traditionally used for diagnosing autism is often based on the symptoms boys experience. Girls and womens’ symptoms are often “camouflaged” leading to diagnoses at later ages.
But Bonnie was persistent and Emma got her official diagnosis a few months before her fourth birthday.
During that time, Leigh was a major support for Bonnie and helped guide her through the process.
“Leigh really helped me, emotionally. She went above and beyond what she had to do,” Bonnie said. “She taught me, you don’t have to be scared of this diagnosis.”
At four, Emma started talking, and had a lot to say. But she struggled to control her emotions.
That started Bonnie on a mission to find out as much information as she could to help her daughter. She’s spend countless hours doing research and trying new strategies at home.
“I’ve tried to have open, honest communication with people who could help me,” she said. “I know I’m not alone.”
Emma still has hard days, but she has a strong relationship with her little brother and older sister.
Her painting and artwork cover the walls of their apartment and she’s learning to help her mom cook.
Jiu-jitsu is not only great physical therapy for her, but it’s helped her build her confidence, Bonnie said.
They’ve been working hard together to develop her empathy skills and Bonnie said she is filled with pride when she sees Emma putting that into practice.
Bonnie said she is always willing to be a resource with other parents and often refers them to LCBDD and Early Intervention for further information.
“Everyone we’ve worked with has been amazing,” she said.