Gabe’s Story

Where Gabe Started

Gabe began his journey here at Cornerstone Autism Center in September of 2017. When he started treatment, he was quiet and withdrawn. He only used one-word signs and/or gestures to communicate. The keys required to unlock Gabe’s abilities to communicate were unique by nature. What sets Gabe apart from other clients at our center is that he is Deaf and uses American Sign Language (ASL) to communicate. Upon starting intensive one-on-one therapy, Gabe’s response to the world around him would be to immediately retreat, much of the time without warning, when demands became challenging. This meant he would sink to the ground, shut his eyes, and move into the fetal position, which made communication with him impossible at the time. Any abrupt transitions for Gabe would trigger intense and long episodes of maladaptive behaviors that could last anywhere from one-to-six hours in duration. During these episodes, Gabe would become a danger to himself and others.

Communication quickly became a critical piece of Gabe’s puzzle to fill. Not only did Gabe’s therapists need to be Registered Behavior Technicians who were fluent in ASL to bridge his gap in the ability to functionally communicate, they also needed an intensive understanding of Deaf culture and their community.

“The goal for any client placed into intensive one-on-one ABA-based therapy is to place them back in a less-restrictive environment,” said Stephanie Dille-Huggins, MA, BCBA. “However, Gabe’s transition also included a transition back into an entire culture and community with its own social and vernacular parameters.”

Gabe’s programming, which derived from the VB-MAPP (Verbal Behavior Milestones Assessment and Placement Program) and the AFLS (Assessment of Functional Living Skills), quickly became distinctive, with programs targeted on teaching him how to respond to flashing lights, introducing himself properly using his name sign, tapping others appropriately to gain their attention and making iPhone calls in emergency situations using the FaceTime feature.

When he started at Cornerstone, Gabe was functioning primarily within level one of the VB-MAPP, which equates to the developmental age of 0-18 months.

How Gabe Improved

Gabe graduated completing levels one through three of the VB-MAPP, as well as demonstrating substantial competency across the three assessments of basic living skills, school skills, and community skills from the AFLS. Gabe’s highly dedicated group of ABA therapists were able to use his native language of ASL to teach the replacement behavior of functional communication to rapidly reduce his engagement in scripting behavior that dominated much of his therapy day and vastly impaired his ability to socially connect with those around him.

Over the course of Gabe’s treatment, his clinical team watched him blossom from a quiet and withdrawn child into an outgoing, funny, caring and highly intelligent young man. Gabe went from communicating through one-word signs and gestures, to signing in full sentences and engaging in varying topics of conversations with both clinical staff and his peers. “Gabe became a role model for other Deaf clients at the center to look up to, and inspired other clients and staff to learn basic ASL in order to communicate with him,” said Dille-Huggins. Upon graduating from Cornerstone, Gabe showed a passion for learning; his favorite areas being math and science. As writing once proved greatly aversive in nature, Gabe graduated with the ability to write in at least five-word sentences. He also demonstrated substantial improvements in his ability to read, which allowed him to learn more about countries around the world that greatly interested him. Gabe is entering the 6th grade. He is greatly looking forward to making new friends and learning in a classroom environment where he will be completely immersed in ASL. We wish Gabe all the best in his very bright future ahead!

Watch Gabe’s graduation video at this link.