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"My CARD Support Specialist was always there to answer my questions. She helped guide me through the systems, and has been unfailingly supportive and caring toward me and my family."

After her divorce, Theresa moved to Tampa Bay with her four children to be near her extended family. As she and the children tried to adjust to their difficult new circumstances she noticed that Brian, the youngest, was exhibiting odd play, avoidant social behaviors and qualities to his language that concerned her.

The difficult news came when the Pre-K Team identified Brian as having mild autism, and placed him in their varying exceptionalities program. The good news was the two youngest children would be attending the same home school. Uncertain about the diagnosis of autism, the impact on the family, and wanting to do what was best for her child, Theresa contacted CARD-USF for help with Brian's individualized education plan (IEP) and transition plans to kindergarten.

Brian had made rapid progress in preschool but the transition to kindergarten was problematic. He would have to change schools to receive the recommended services. Brian could not understand why he could not attend a "regular" class. He expressed his dislike for the new school and his attendance began to slip, as did his sister's. By the end of the year, things had gone from bad to worse and Brian refused to attend summer school because he wanted to stay home with his siblings. In the fall, the family was told that Brian was going to be attending his third school in three years in order to receive special services.

Due to his physical size, his mother could no longer manage him. In the car, he became destructive and aggressive creating an unsafe driving condition. His refusal to ride in the car or on the school bus made it impossible to go to school and to compound the family's difficulties; Brian's sister also refused to go to school. Distressed by the spiraling situation, Theresa contacted her CARD Support Specialist, Suzanne Shahan, to meet with Brian's school social worker. The three built a team of school, mental health and CARD professionals to determine needs and support for the family.

Brian's diagnosis of autism meant Developmental Services (DS) needed to be involved. DS began extensive in-home family support emphasizing household structure and routines. Consistency for all of the children would be the key to success. CARD staff helped to create an understanding of child development and encouraged Theresa to attend the DS parent training class to learn how to be more consistent with positive attention, praise, and setting limits for all of the children.

Collaboration between CARD and DS helped Theresa develop confidence in her abilities as a parent. As a result, she became more consistent about meals and bedtimes. She began to understand the necessity of setting limits for her children and learned how to negotiate and solve problems in a pro-active way. Theresa began to learn to use positive attention more effectively to keep a difficult situation from escalating. Most importantly, Brian and his sister began to attend school more often.

When it was necessary for Brian to change schools a fourth time the news was good! Brian was going back to his home school because it had added a special class. Brian would finally be able to ride the bus with his sister again! Like most children they didn't want summer vacation to end so the school year got off to a rocky start, but Brian now had an experienced team behind him. By the end of his second year, Brian was fully included in the second grade with an IEP goal of full inclusion in the third grade.

Brian is now in his home school and in a class with typically developing neighborhood peers. He still has an IEP and he still has his team of professionals to back him up, if he needs them. Theresa has learned in order for these successes to continue she has to maintain consistency over time and prepare Brian adequately when transitions are anticipated. She also knows that she can access CARD support at any time that she needs assistance.

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