When Jonah Kirschner was 2 years old, his parents, David and Erin, noticed their little boy was no longer acquiring new words or using the ones he already knew.
“Jonah had started to talk and then stopped,” David says. “It was at that time that he was diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder.”
Today, 8-year-old Jonah happily chatters and sings in the background as his father recounts the journey the family began with a diagnosis at Rady Children’s Hospital-San Diego and continued at the Hospital’s Autism Discovery Institute, where Jonah received services.
“Jonah’s nonverbal and verbal communication grew exponentially during the time he was receiving services,” David says. “He speaks in full sentences now. He types 26 words a minute and writes stories on a laptop. The other day he was watching me write and told me where I needed to add a comma!”
David and Erin have shown their gratitude with annual donations to the Autism Discovery Institute that are matched by David’s employer. The state-of-the art institute, which opened in 2011, offers comprehensive services including a diagnostic treatment center and toddler and preschool classes, along with a cutting-edge research program. “We’ve been really impressed with the caliber of people and the quality of care we’ve received,” David says. “Jonah is doing great and Rady Children’s is a big part of that.”
Erin hopes their donations will help other families to know that there are programs and people who can help them.
“When you first get the diagnosis you feel so alone,” she says. “You have this information and you don’t know what to do with it. One of the things that really impressed us about Rady Children’s is that they recognized this need. So many kids are diagnosed every year, and we want families to know the Autism Discovery Institute is available, with people who can help them put together a plan of action.”
Soon after his diagnosis, Jonah’s speech therapist recommended that the family participate in the Stepping Stones program at Rady Children’s for children with an autism spectrum disorder. The program uses a structured play curriculum designed to enhance communication and interaction between parent and child, and between children.
“Stepping Stones was a really great place for Jonah to learn social skills and to interact with other children,” David says. “That’s the biggest challenge for him. It was also good for Erin and me because we met other parents with kids on the autism spectrum. We’ve stayed in contact with several of them.”
Rady Children’s also referred the family to the San Diego Regional Center, a nonprofit agency that serves people with developmental disabilities. The center provided a therapist who conducted home visits for more than a year.
Jonah attended a Del Mar Union School District preschool for children with special needs, while also meeting weekly with an occupational therapist at Rady Children’s Solana Beach center. Jonah and the therapist worked on developing his strength and spacial awareness, expanding his tolerance for handling various textures and managing his daily routines.
“The occupational therapy he received through Rady Children’s really helped make him autonomous,” David says. “[Jonah knows] how to get dressed and put on shoes, how to make his own lunch. These kids have to learn how to learn and that’s what the occupational therapy does for us.”
Today, Jonah is progressing well and attends school in a modified schedule with his typically developing peers.
“I think back to the very beginning and I can’t believe we’ve come so far,” Erin says. “It’s amazing.”