Washington Elks Therapy Program for Children

Meet Kelly! Kelly is a 20-year-old young woman who was referred to the Elks by her case manager after her physician stated that “she is falling through the cracks of the system.” Kelly’s story is an inspiring example of the power of this program and how the Elks have made a lasting difference in her and her family’s life.

Kelly has autism and heart complications. At the start of services, Kelly was non-verbal except for repeating phrases from shows she watched. It is common for people with autism to repeat “scripts” they have learned which quite often have little to no true meaning. For example, when someone asks Kelly how she is feeling, she will always say “happy,” even if it is known that she is upset. Her mother’s dream was for Kelly to be able to share how her day was and accurately express her feelings based on the day’s events.

Using resources available through Kelly’s disability funding, the Elks therapist was able to provide Kelly with an application on her iPad called Proloquo2go. This application allows the user to navigate through topics of conversation and essentially “speak” for the user. By learning communication in this way, it is common for users to develop more spoken language as well. Teaching Kelly and her mother to use the application virtually was not an easy task, but through screen sharing, family support, and Kelly’s participation, she has made great progress! Kelly loves Hello Kitty, and episodes of the show were used to teach her to identify feelings of the characters in context of the show. Soon after, Kelly was independently identifying complex feelings such as frustration, confusion, and excitement both verbally and using Proloquo2Go.

One day, Kelly had a very rough morning. She usually gets sorbet following her morning walk and that morning, her uncle mistakenly ate the last one in the house. Routine and predictability are very important for individuals with autism, and breaks in routine can really impact their ability to function throughout the day. Kelly also has a difficult time sharing so this event was extra hard for her to cope with. Later that day, Kelly’s mother recognized she was still upset from this event from her body language. Kelly’s mom asked her how she was feeling and, for the first time, Kelly expressed her true feelings verbally. “I feel sad”, she said. Her mother then asked why. Following a pause, Kelly found and said the words “Uncle no ice cream.” Her mother then explained how sharing with family was very important. Not only was this a breakthrough in communicating with mom, the next day Kelly independently gave her uncle one of her sorbets.

Kelly’s mother shared this story with the Elks therapist with tears in her eyes saying, “It happened! Kelly told me about her day! Then she shared her sorbet with her uncle!” Her mother continued, “Just this little thing is such a big thing for us.”

Kelly spent the first 20 years of her life without a voice, but with the same feelings and experiences we all have, just no way to express them. Due to the nature of the Elks’ therapy program, Kelly’s therapist was able to take the time needed to get her this essential application and train Kelly and her mother in how to use it. Thank you, Washington Elks, for providing this family with the opportunity to have a conversation with their child for the first time!