By Morgan McClellan,
At eleven years old, Chelsea realized her relationship with her younger brother was unlike the ones she saw between her friends and their siblings. They didn’t pick on each other or hold conversations. It was around this time when she found out her brother was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Braxton was three years old when he received this diagnosis.
“I will admit it was difficult to feel a connection to my brother growing up,” Chelsea explained.
Braxton was developing normally with good interactions at first, she said. He began to regress around two years old by losing eye contact and vocalizations. They first tested his hearing, but the results came back negative. That’s when they began screenings for autism with his pediatrician.
“We were dealing with deficits in social skills and language, but he has absolutely blossomed since he started ABA therapy. He has found his voice again.”
Chelsea’s first contact with ABA was during a training for families at Judevine Center in St. Louis. She said she attended a week of sibling training, which was very helpful to build her understanding of autism.
Braxton began receiving services from Cornerstone in 2013 and graduated from the program in the fall of 2015. During his time at Cornerstone, he worked on life skills as well as social skills. He would practice toothbrushing to help him with his nightly routine. He also learned how to load and unload the dishwasher. Braxton and his therapist would work on appropriate play throughout his therapy day — his favorite activities were playing with water balloons and musical chairs. Click here to see a video of Braxton playing musical chairs with his friends at Cornerstone!
“As Braxton started gaining independence, I could tell he was very proud of himself. We would always brag on him when he would get something independently, too.”
Chelsea said the goal has always been for Braxton to become more independent. From communicating his needs on his own to taking care of himself, he has achieved great success since he was three years old.
Braxton is now a sophomore in high school, turning 16 years old this month. He is involved in a peer group that organizes bowling outings and scavenger hunts. She says he loves hanging out with his buddies and telling knock-knock jokes.
Braxton bonds with his friends over music as well. Chelsea often finds him listening to music on his sensory swing. Braxton’s love for music has been channeled into playing the piano, which he started to learn when he received music therapy in middle school. Through this outlet, he communicates how the songs make him feel, which Chelsea said has been wonderful to witness.
It was in college when Chelsea realized her calling was to become an ABA Therapist. After shadowing at an ABA center, she was amazed by the patience the therapists were able to have and how they could de-escalate and prevent problem behaviors. Chelsea had dreams to make a difference in the lives of families like her own, which is when she looked into careers at Cornerstone.
“I knew Cornerstone had amazing people,” she said. “It also was such a structured, organized place with good values. I was inspired by Debbie’s story and how she had the personal impact of an ASD diagnosis. The whole story of Cornerstone and how it came to be, on top of seeing how well Braxton did there, made me want to become an ABA Therapist.”
Chelsea and Braxton now have a stronger sibling bond than ever before. They spend time together by listening to music and singing the Spongebob Squarepants theme song. They also spend time doing yoga together, which helps to calm him down. Braxton’s self awareness has grown; he is now able to tell when he’s getting over stimulated and asks to do yoga stretches or deep breaths, Chelsea said. During holidays, they love to play board games together as a family.
During the time they spend together, Braxton often gives Chelsea compliments and makes her feel loved.
“Individuals with autism have so much love for everyone around them,” she said. “Braxton enjoys making people laugh, and has such a pure heart. He’s not afraid to tell me he loves me and that he thinks I look pretty. What 16 year old says such kind and genuine things to his older sister?”
Since Chelsea became a therapist at Cornerstone, Braxton has said he wants to follow in her footsteps. His future goals are to go to IU and become an ABA Therapist like his big sister. She said they have been role models for each other. He inspired her to take these steps and go along the journey towards becoming a Board Certified Behavior Analyst, which she just achieved this spring.
“For me, just looking at the photo from when we were little to now, I don’t think people looking at those photos would realize the amount of progress within that timeline. It’s amazing that I’ve been able see all of his progress from the start.”
To read more of Braxton’s success story from attending Cornerstone, click here. We hope you will join us in sharing this story for Autism Awareness Month by posting this blog on your social media channels.
April 18, 2019, Morgan McClellan