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Helping Aidan overcome autism spectrum disorder

Patient Spotlight February 19, 2014 By Main Line Health

Seven-year-old Aidan McLean is busy. Besides recently completing first grade, he manages his own blog and YouTube account, takes swimming lessons and a LEGO building class, and is a member of a local Cub Scout troop. Aidan’s curiosity has always come naturally, but it’s hard to believe there was a time when he struggled to become so involved.

Aidan was a happy child, but his parents, Laurie and Dan, were concerned when he still hadn’t begun talking by age two. Dan had been a late-talker, however, so they dismissed Aidan’s delay as genetic until his sister, Julia, was born. Julia began speaking at 10 months, leading Laurie and Dan to re-evaluate the reasons behind Aidan’s delayed speech.

“We first had Aidan evaluated for early intervention at around 2 ½ years old because of his speech delay,” says mom Laurie. “We also decided to do an independent speech evaluation and from that, we were advised to get an appointment with a developmental pediatrician.”

In December 2007, in the same month of his third birthday and only a few months after his first evaluation, Aidan was diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder.

After seeking advice and recommendations on where to go from friends, the family chose Riddle Hospital for its speech and occupational therapy co-treatment method. There, Aidan began his treatment with the Pediatric Therapy Team.

In his earliest weeks and months with the program, Aidan’s therapists focused mostly on his speech. He spent one hour per week with Laurie Maddesi, M.S., a speech language pathologist, but it wasn’t all work and no play. To help Aidan develop his speech, Maddesi used toys and games with specific activities that targeted speech and language skills, like ‘Guess Who’ and ‘Clue Jr.’.

“As a part of the games I played with Aidan, he would be required to ask questions during his turn,” explains Maddesi. “It would require him to work on his sounds and focus on his speech, so he was targeting his language naturally as he was playing a game.”

Eventually, Aidan’s therapy extended to three hours per week to include occupational therapy with Barb Hetherington and physical therapy with Maryjane Minnick. Barb’s sessions focused on motor skills like handwriting, cutting and coloring, and allowing Aidan to work independently to develop the tasks, while physical therapy fostered strength, balance and coordination during basketball exercises. Whether it was speech, occupational or physical therapy, the Riddle team did their best to tailor activities to something Aidan would enjoy to increase his motivation to participate.

“Aidan loves the Phillies, so we dedicated one week of therapy to baseball,” says Maddesi. “He was throwing and catching with Maryjane, making baseball-related crafts with Barb, and playing games about baseball during his speech work.”

Laurie and Dan, upon seeing Aidan’s progress as a result of the therapies, were pleased.

“We were relieved to discover that Aidan took to these therapies very comfortably. He enjoyed interacting with the staff and was generally pleased to do what was asked of him, which certainly goes to the staff’s credit,” says Laurie.

Besides his weekly visits to therapy, Aidan also had plenty of support at home, too. Both Laurie and Dan worked full-time jobs, so they weren’t able to shuttle Aidan back and forth from his appointments during the day. His grandparents were able to step in, serving as Aidan’s chauffeur and becoming actively involved in his therapies. Sister Julia also conducted her own therapy for Aidan. During playtime, she had Aidan pay attention to her and play with her, reinforcing the skills he was learning at Riddle.

“The entire family supported Aidan’s therapy program with high expectations, believing there was nothing he couldn’t do,” Laurie says.

Four years after beginning his work with the Riddle Pediatric Therapy team, seven-year-old Aidan graduated from the program with a completed checklist of goals achieved and went on to complete first grade at Swarthmore-Rutledge Elementary. According to Laurie and Dan, Aidan has excellent grades and has made significant gains in language skills, following directions and his social abilities, including memory, intellect and thoughtfulness of others.

“We don’t dwell on any sort of label; we treat Aidan as a very bright boy with a lot to offer,” explains Laurie. “We have high expectations for him.”

The Riddle Pediatric Therapy program offers evaluation and treatments of a wide range of communication, gross and fine motor disorders that affect children. For more information on the program or to make an appointment, call 484.227.3200.