Sioux FallsRapid City

Making Progress Possible with Autism

“We’re not moving to South Dakota unless Mitch can attend Children’s Care!” That was the final determination from Lisa Riley, when her husband, Don, was offered a promotion four years ago that meant a move from Nebraska to South Dakota. The Riley’s son, Mitch, had been diagnosed with autism several years before, and finding services for him was a critical factor in their decision. Lisa and staff from Mitch’s school in Norfolk, NE, visited Children’s Care and were very impressed with what they found. Lisa knew Children’s Care was a great fit for Mitch; the Rileys had the green light to relocate.

The family moved in 2004 to rural Dell Rapids, SD, and Mitch, then 16 years old, adjusted well to Children’s Care. Since the Rileys live near Sioux Falls, Mitch has attended classes as a day student, so he can continue to live at home. Over the four years he’s been at Children’s Care, Lisa says his awareness of the world around him and his social skills have steadily improved. “You can just tell how the teachers love these kids,” says Lisa, “and the therapists are just wonderful.”

Mitch’s team at Children’s Care has worked on communication skills, which help prevent problem behaviors borne out of frustration. “Mitch has been doing well using Mayer-Johnson picture cards and sign language to communicate his wants and needs, especially at meal times,” says Jenny Holmes, Speech/Language Pathologist.  Other skills Mitch is working on in school with teacher Keri Statema are coin identification and value, and prevocational work tasks such as sorting, matching, assembling, and disassembling.

Behavior analyst Amber Bruns says Mitch is making great progress in adjusting to changes in routine. His attention span has also increased, allowing him to stay on-task for longer periods of time. Mitch is learning to recognize times when he needs to calm himself, and does so by rocking in a rocking chair or swinging on the playground or in the sensory room. For wellness activities, he swims twice a week in the Children’s Care pool, and rides a bike. Mitch is also focusing on building community skills. His favorite task is delivering mail to the Children’s Care Rehabilitation Center and the Wegner Center.

All of these skills are vitally important as Mitch approaches his 21st birthday, when a transition-to adulthood plan must be devised. The Rileys are investigating programs for adults that will encourage independence, but keep him close to home. In the meantime, Children’s Care is focused on helping Mitch learn better ways to communicate and respond to his environment, to increase his success as he moves into adulthood. As the Rileys look to the future, they express their gratitude that their move brought their son to Children’s Care Hospital & School. “We wish he could stay here indefinitely,” she says. “I can’t praise this staff enough for what they’ve done for us.”

-Written by Julie Gehm


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"Our family is extremely grateful for all of Mason's therapists and the staff at Children's Care. Everyone goes above and beyond their call of duty to empower Mason and our family to develop and maximize his potential. Thank you Children's Care for being a part of our family and support system. We couldn't do it without you."
– Tim M., Parent