Like most four-year-old boys, Bob McGrath is an expert at playing. He loves to run, be silly and enjoys his toys. But, as he grew, his parents noticed that an essential ingredient was missing from his playtime: interacting with others.
Bob’s parents, Beau and Deanna, enrolled Bob in Easterseals’ PLAY Project -- “Play and Language for Autistic Youngsters” -- six months ago to help him learn to interact and communicate more effectively. It’s a kind of PLAY that’s changed their lives for the better, one session at a time.
Once a month, an Easterseals therapist specializing in PLAY Project teaches Bob and his parents how to communicate through words and actions. PLAY Project is an evidence-based, parent-implemented and intensive early intervention program for young people with autism.
“When we first started with PLAY Project, Bob had no eye contact with us at all. If we tried to play with him while he was playing with a toy, he would walk away or he wouldn’t even notice us,” said Deanna. “As a result of PLAY Project sessions, Bob is more engaged with us. He can bring us things he needs and wants so we know and we’re not so frustrated.”
Deanna says the family is halfway through PLAY Project sessions, and she and her husband feel empowered to help Bob more effectively now.
“We know the things we can do to help engage him,” she said, adding that the family and the therapist often take field trips to different locations to expand the lessons.
“For the last two sessions we went to the park where he likes to swing. He said, ‘swing!’ last time, and he doesn’t say anything usually. Karen (Bob’s therapist) has helped with his interactions. It’s amazing. It’s worth every hour,” she said.
“Our next plan is to take him to the beach, where he tends to run away from us,” said Deanna. “Karen and I will have a lesson in making him aware of his surroundings and explaining boundaries.”
Bob’s interactions with peers have improved, too. According to Deanna, Bob notices other children when he didn’t before, and he stays around them in the same area now.
The PLAY Project is Bob’s second experience with Easterseals of Northeast Central Florida. He began therapy with Easterseals through Early Steps when he was 18 months old. Deanna’s encounter with Early Steps led her to be hired as an Early Steps Family Resource Specialist in the program after Bob graduated. In her roles as a parent and staff member, she encourages families to reach out to Easterseals if they feel their child needs support in reaching his or her full potential.
“A lot of other therapists will say, ‘we’re going to do ‘textbook kids with autism’ activities,’ but Easterseals realizes every child is different,” said Deanna. “Easterseals is always willing to work with your schedule and what your goals are. They pay attention to what you have going on in your life and they work with you to get you there.”
The McGrath family is thrilled to be part of the 2019 Honorary Ambassadors program. Join them for Walk With Me on April 26 in Daytona Beach. Join their team, register to walk or donate at www.walkwithme.org/daytona.