Charity Spotlight: This post was written by Liz Leake, communicator with ISAND, as part of our ongoing charity spotlight series.
In early 2011 Daniella Laise and Michael Nitsopoulos were thrilled to learn they were expecting their first child. When baby Nathan was born in October it was the culmination of a years-long journey to parenthood that included many moments of despair and three heart-breaking miscarriages.
However, by the time Nathan was a year old, Daniella and Michael suspected something was amiss with their precious son.
“Nathan began flapping his hands a lot,” Daniella recalls, describing repetitive movements, often known as “stimming”, that can be early signs of autism. They then noticed something unusual with Nathan’s language development. “He had echolalia, that is, he just repeated back exactly what we said to him instead of moving on to the next step of initiating words himself.”
When at age two Nathan was still not forming words independently or showing an interest in playing with other children, Daniella and Michael insisted his doctor refer him for an autism assessment.
A devastating diagnosis
The confirmation of Nathan’s autism devastated his parents. “That day we felt like we were walking into an abyss, with no understanding of the diagnosis or how to help our child,” says Daniella. “We wondered if he would ever have friends, get married, or have a happy life.”
The speech-language pathologist involved in Nathan’s diagnostic assessment recommended they contact ISAND, a Toronto-based non-profit organization that provides services and programs for children and young adults with autism and other neurodevelopmental disorders.
“I remember walking into ISAND for our first appointment in 2014 just a month after the birth of our second son, Evan,” says Daniella. “Right from the start we sensed a difference from any other place we’d been to for help. Instead of a sad and grim atmosphere, the ISAND staff were positive and upbeat. They focused on the things that were great about our son. We were told, ‘Don’t you worry. Nathan will be the best little boy he can be!”
ISAND’S unique approach to care
Since launching in 2013, ISAND has offered a unique approach to care. The integrated team of developmental pediatricians, psychologists, clinicians, and therapists work together with families to achieve the best possible outcomes for young people. The team provides developmental medical care, language and social communication, occupational and behavioural therapies, as well as mental health and wellness supports for individuals and families. These services are provided across three age groupings: newborn to age 4, ages 5-14, and ages 15-24. Services are available in one centre, enabling families to receive fully integrated, coordinated and continuous care.
Generous donors make services possible
Many children and young adults can achieve significant developmental gains with support from the ISAND team. The generosity of individual and corporate donors and sponsors makes it possible for ISAND to offer the best possible service, regardless of a family’s ability to pay.
Nathan began one-to-one sessions with a variety of ISAND specialists including a speech-language pathologist, occupational therapist and an early childhood educator specializing in supporting young children with autism. Parents are involved and supported every step of the way.
“In Nathan’s first session at ISAND, I was invited to sit on the floor and join the session,” recalls Daniella. “At home I was then able to reinforce what I learned.” Six months later, Nathan uttered the words Daniella had dreamed of hearing, “I love you Mama!”
“We are confident we can face the challenges”
After two years of ISAND services, Nathan is thriving. He initiates play with his friends, and his language skills are at grade level. “As an added bonus”, says Daniella, “with the help of an occupational therapist, he went from being unable to jump to doing flips on the trampoline in gymnastics class.” As he starts senior kindergarten this fall, Daniella and Michael recognize the entire family has come a long way since the bleak days following Nathan’s diagnosis.
“We know that Nathan will have struggles,” says Daniella. “But ISAND has made a world of difference.We are confident we can face the challenges because the ISAND team will support Nathan and us through every transition in his life.”
“They have enabled us to engage with our child,” says Daniella. “What an incredible gift!”
To learn more about ISAND, or to make a donation, please visit their Charity Profile Page >>