“You just kind of feel lost,” recalls Darren. “You know that there’s something wrong, and you don’t have a clue as to how to fix it, or who to ask, or where to go.”
Darren and his wife Sherry were worried about their daughter Lauren. Her first word, “apple,” was spoken when she was about one year old. As most parents do, Darren and Sherry assumed words like “momma” and “daddy” would soon follow, but instead, they found that Lauren’s language skills diminished almost as fast as they had begun.
As months passed without progress, their concern for their child deepened. When visits to the pediatrician elicited little advice other than being patient for Lauren’s development, Darren and Sherry decided to take their daughter’s health into their own hands.
They began their journey by enrolling Lauren in speech and occupational therapy. Though helpful, they were still lacking answers for their now three-year-old daughter. After meeting with a neurologist, they were referred to Preschool Programs for Children with Disabilities (PPCD) in their school district. Here, they found their answer: Lauren was diagnosed with autism.
Their next challenge was ensuring Lauren received the treatment and services she needed while both working full-time and welcoming their second child, Logan, into their family. They frequently bounced from one daycare center to another, as finding the right one equipped to handle children with special needs was proving impossible. This pattern continued until Lauren aged out of the PPCD program and into elementary school, where she received little attention as one of 18 children in the special education class.
Darren and Sherry knew their family was not where they needed to be. “Lauren was doing speech, she was doing OT, she was doing music therapy, so we feel like we’re doing stuff,” explains Darren. “But we didn’t really see too much progress with that.” That’s when they decided to move their family to Flower Mound because of its great reputation in regards to school district and special needs services.
Along with a better school environment, Darren and Sherry were looking to add social therapy to Lauren’s treatment. At this point, they had also noticed some areas of concern for Logan, who was hyperactive and lacked focus in comparison to his four-year-old peers. They happened upon PediaPlex while driving in the area and connected to a staff member for a consultation regarding both of their children.
An evaluation revealed that Logan had ADHD combined mild, which was once again, an answer that Darren and Sherry found extremely helpful. With a clear diagnosis, they now had direction for helping their son. Logan began play therapy in both one-on-one and group settings at PediaPlex and quickly started making progress. “The information [his therapist] gave not only him, but also the tools she gave us, have been really valuable,” says Darren. “His teachers will comment on how he’s so emotionally mature and identifies and responds to other kids.” After reaching all of his goals in two years, Logan exited the therapy program and continues to thrive as a social, energetic eight-year-old.
Initially, Lauren began play therapy at PediaPlex as well. However, her therapist recognized after a few sessions that it was not the right fit for Lauren, which left Darren and Sherry wondering when and where they would find the missing piece to their daughter’s treatment.
One year later, PediaPlex introduced an ABA therapy program to their services. Having researched ABA previously, Darren knew that it was both intensive and expensive, but he and Sherry brought Lauren back into PediaPlex to see if ABA was the match they had been searching for. Sure enough, an evaluation led to Lauren starting ABA therapy, and her social skills significantly improved within three or four months.
Now about 14 months into the program, Darren sees the results he and his wife have wanted for their daughter all along. “It’s her being able to connect with peers, with friends. Her being able to say “hello” to people. Having not only the skills to do that, but the confidence,” he describes. “That’s allowing her to form relationships with people that perhaps she wouldn’t have before. So being able to do that, being able to express herself, sharing her wants and needs, playing with peers – that’s awesome.”
Lauren, who used to show little interest in her Girl Scout troop, recently led her group as the flag bearer during a ceremony and moved up to a Junior from a Brownie. Darren and Sherry attribute many of these milestones to the work PediaPlex is doing through ABA therapy.
“It’s just been a good experience with PediaPlex,” says Darren. “They’ve been helpful in the therapeutic aspect of it, but also as a friendship aspect. The kids enjoy going there, I enjoy going there.”
After searching for results of this magnitude for years, ABA therapy at PediaPlex has been a blessing to Darren’s family. “It was Lauren who was making the progress, but we felt as parents that we were achieving something,” he describes. “She had a brighter outlook. You always have the fear of what’s going to happen in the future, so any way you can diminish that is important. That takes away a lot of the stress.”
Looking back on their journey, Darren wishes that ABA had been the first thing he and his wife did for Lauren. “It’s kind of a regret, because that’s so important to get them in soon and as quick as you can,” he adds. “You have to step outside your comfort zone. I didn’t know any of this stuff; I’m not a speech therapist, I’m not a behavioral therapist. But now I can put social stories together. I’m part of a team that’s helping my child.”
For those at the start of their journey, Darren advises: “It’s work, but it’s worth it knowing that the work that you can put in now will most likely lessen the work that you have to do at later stages. And that gives you greater opportunity for your kiddo.”
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