BVRC After School Autism Social Program Making a Difference

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According to the Centers for Disease Control, one in 88 children are diagnosed with Autism in the United States. It's a number that continues to grow, even right here in the Brazos Valley.

Something as simple as saying hello…

"Ethan I've never met you before, I'm Katie," said Katie.
"Yes," said Ethan Kimball.

Those are gestures that come naturally to some people...

"Ethan, say Hi to Katie," said Dr. Amy Heath.
"Hi Katie and Hi Monica,” said Ethan.

“Ethan is a sweet kid who gets away with a lot,” said Ethan’s mother Jorja Kimball.

But for 21-year-old Ethan Kimball and several others in this room -- it's a work in progress.

“The big issue with them is social deficits and they don't understand and unless you work with them and show them what they're supposed to do in a social situation, then they have nothing to draw on,” said Jorja Kimball.

Ethan was diagnosed with Autism at five years old.

“We are fortunate because he doesn't necessary have aggressive behaviors. He's a compliant child. I think in some ways he's had therapy and he's had people working with him who show kindness so he knows he doesn't need to lash out on people.”

Jorja says she and her husband have struggled to find the resources for their son; resources that really worked.

"We had been to San Antonio, Houston to here and a couple other places. I remember cutting checks that were bigger than our mortgage because the insurance said "nope, you've already received 25 therapies. I found out about this here through training with another parent.”

"We have a pretty large population here in town and we are finding that as they get into the high school age and they haven't built those social relationships and they graduate from high school they don't have much to do,” said Heath. The parents have a big network as you can imagine and a parent said there was a program that Brazos Valley Resource Center was doing for older young adults that are still in high school, but older than the average kid because they haven't aged out of high school yet and I said, ‘Oh we've got to get in on this.’ “

Due to that very reason, Dr. Amy Heath said she was encouraged to start an after school social-program at the Brazos Valley Rehab Center. It’s a program for all ages, including young adults.

“I came up with this idea of social clubs and I thought, "You know what, what if they need a place to come and hang out and make friends and have a good time,’ said Heath. “It doesn't have to be 'therapy-related' it just has to be a place where they can interact and socialize and have fun at the same time.”

Ethan attends the program every Thursday from 4:30 p.m. to 6 p.m.

“That's what's exciting about the program is that there really is no limit, just as long as we're all working together building relationships,” said Heath. “We add in activities that promote this togetherness and this way of interacting and building social skills.”

Students from Texas A&M volunteer their time to help the young adults learn to socialize.

“He's going to age out of high school and services like they have here in this program don't exist in a lot of places,” said Kimball. "I think all parents want their kid to be known as their kid. Not as the kid with CP or the kid with Autism, but my kid -- Ethan with Ethan's personality.”

“We really promote that social environment while we are playing games they have to go invite each other to play and they can't just have a college kid play with them. They have to invite another peer, and that can be scary because maybe they have been rejected in the past and that friend said no,” Heath explained.

Heath is trying to make more resources readily available for the community.

“The depression rate with older people with disabilities is really sad and it's just this group of individuals and they don't know how to go out and seek friends; they're worried about how they will look in front of people or wonder if people are going to understand if I don't act the same as they do,” Heath explained. “So the idea of having a safe social place to come to and no matter who you are or what you do, we are going to find a way for you to fit in and have fun.”

It's a valuable resource the Kimball family says they're blessed to have.

"Some parents I've talked to, of course we want them cured of course because some day we're not going to be here, but in another way, they're our kid and that's what we've gotten used to, and we want them cured and we want them to be able to function but we love them the way we are. So do you want how he is to change? I'm not so sure I do,” explained Jorja. “It's really tough to answer that question if they could be cured, would you want them to be? Yes. Because I don't want him to be by himself and not know who is going to take care of him, but the other side of me doesn't want to lose the Ethan that we've grown to love for 21 years."

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