When Developmental Specialist Megan Hopp arrives at Zaire McCurdy’s house, his mother, Genesis Delarosa excitedly pulls out her phone.
She shows off videos of Zaire — who prefers to go by his middle name, Rico — and his little sister Zoriyah clapping along with Ms. Rachel as she sings “Open, Shut Them” and “The Wheels on the Bus.”
Watching her son go, “Beep, beep, beep,” along with the music, Genesis gets emotional as she watches him engage with his sister and mimic her movements.
“We’ve been working on this, forever,” she says as the 3-year-old happily runs over to her.
“I’m so happy about you,” she tells him.
When Rico was diagnosed with autism a little over a year ago, Genesis was filled with fear about his future.
But watching him jump and play with his big sister Amilliana and shout, “I did it!’ when he tries something new, those feelings have been replaced with joy.
“I never thought I’d have the (Rico) I have now,” she said. “I thought he wouldn’t be able to communicate.”
A different way of thinking
When Genesis reached out to the Licking County Board of Developmental Disabilities’ Early Intervention program, Rico had just been diagnosed at Children’s Hospital.
The only words he would say was “tucka-tucka.” He would spend hours staring at shadows on the walls or making repetitive movements, His family didn’t know how to connect with him.
Their family doctor recommended they reach out to LCBDD and start Early Intervention, also known as EI. Offered statewide to infants and toddlers — from birth to age 3 — with developmental delays, disabilities or medical conditions likely to result in delays, EI is provided in Licking County at no cost to families.
When Megan met their family during their first EI visit, they decided to take the words “autism” and “global developmental delays” off the table and meet Rico exactly where he was.
“Megan was my rock,” Genesis said. “I was able to talk to her, to calm down, to understand it.”
Googling “autism” and worrying about the information she would find wasn’t serving her. Instead, she and Megan agreed to focus on understanding Rico’s unique way of thinking.
During their regular home visits in Pataskala, Megan helped their entire family learn to play with Rico.
Working with LCBDD Occupational Therapist Karlie Fleak, she showed them how to use compression on his joints to help him calm down and create a visual schedule so he would know what to expect.
When they realized how much Rico needed to move and jump, his LCBDD Service Coordinator helped their family use Family Support Services (FSS) funds to buy sensory toys for him to jump and climb on.
Megan encouraged Genesis to turn an empty room in their home into a playroom for Rico. Amilliana often joins him there to dance, play and help him learn.
Now Rico is able to use words and gestures to communicate what he wants.
“It’s just day and night,” Genesis said. “He’s more verbal, making more eye contact, he’s got more independence. I’m very proud of him.”
‘It’s life changing’
Although he aged out of Early Intervention when he turned 3, Rico is still supported by LCBDD and continues visits with Megan once a month.
They are working on potty training, helping him try new foods and dressing himself, with the goal of getting him ready to start school or an ABA therapy program.
“He’s taught us a lot of patience,” Genesis said. “I’ve been learning from him.”
His family’s commitment to understanding Rico and the best ways to support him is the reason he’s learned so much in such a short time, Megan said.
Genesis said she’s also grateful that they were able to access LCBDD’s services quickly after his diagnosis. Many other resources in Columbus have long waiting lists.
If parents have concerns about their child’s development, they should make a referral to EI, she said.
“Just give it a chance because it’s life changing,” she said. “Not only for the kids but for the parents and families. It’s not only helped us understand him a lot better but it’s helped us understand our emotions and feelings.”
Now Genesis views her son’s attention to detail and ability to learn on his own to be gifts. She cheers him on as he dances, smiles and laughs.
“He loves life,” she said. “(Autism) is his superpower, not his weakness at all. It makes him so much better.”
For more information about Early Intervention in Licking County, go to https://lcountydd.org/birth-to-3/. To make an EI referral, please call 1-800-755-4769. You can also make a secure online referral at http://bit.ly/ReferToHMG.