Autism and the Colwell Family

Nicole and Linda Colwell.

Nicole and Linda Colwell.

By Michelle Johnson –

April is National Autism Awareness Month, which was designated in 1970 by the United States to educate our communities about Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Autism is a developmental disorder that affects the way our brain processes information. It involves a person’s ability to interact and communicate with others. Typically, autism appears during the first three years of life, but the severity of symptoms is different for each individual. Some symptoms may not be defined as well as others and may be misdiagnosed. This is the reason that education of this disorder is so important, and early diagnosis of this disorder is essential.

Search for Answers

For the Colwell family of Sugar Land, the search for answers surrounding problems their daughter Nicole was having was not an easy one. Linda Colwell, Nicole’s mom, explained, “When Nicole was two-years-old, I noticed that she was not speaking much or trying to communicate with her peers. Nicole had frequent ear infections and had tubes put in her ears. I thought maybe the issues she was having were related to not being able to hear properly.”

According to her mom, Nicole had been in daycare since the age of six months and remained until she turned three. “I did not get any reports from the daycare about any behavioral issues or problems. I took some time off right before her third birthday, and it became apparent to me that she was not developing socially or academically as well as her peers.”

Jeff and Nicole Colwell.

Jeff and Nicole Colwell.

Knowledge is Power

Colwell spoke with Nicole’s pediatrician, and he suggested speech therapy. After having Nicole tested, it was determined that she needed speech therapy. Nicole attended two 30 minute sessions every week. After further research, Colwell discovered that the Fort Bend Independent School District offered a program for children with developmental delays. After being evaluated at the age of three and a half, Nicole was enrolled at the local elementary school and attended two 30 minute sessions each week. Even with four sessions of speech therapy per week for six months, Nicole was still not progressing as expected for her peer level.

Nicole began to have some behavioral issues, and Colwell suspected that her daughter may be autistic. “I asked her private speech therapist if she was aware of any program in the area that I might research on this disorder.” Colwell found there was a program in Rosenberg: Texana Children’s Center for Autism. A meeting was set and a psychiatric evaluation was scheduled to determine if Nicole was autistic.  Thankfully, Colwell’s search for answers led her to Texana.

 A Light at the End of the Tunnel

Colwell needed a full day program for Nicole, and she found that Texana offered both half day and full day programs for autistic children. In March of 2013, Nicole was enrolled at Texana. In the beginning, Nicole was only able to communicate with a very limited amount of single words. She was able to understand the alphabet and numbers, but she was unable to communicate them. One of her behavioral issues consisted of throwing herself on the ground and crying when she could not complete a task, such as opening the door to let one of her cats inside the house. She would begin to cry and could not be consoled.

Ruth Alfery and Nicole Colwell in Florida.

Ruth Alfery and Nicole Colwell in Florida.

Nicole attends Texana’s Bridge Pre-K program. The first part of the day, she has one-on-one instruction, and the second half is in a classroom with other autistic children, as well as children that have no developmental issues. Nicole benefits from both. She has learned how to be flexible by having different therapists for her one-on-one instruction and observing appropriate classroom behavior from the children in the Bridge Pre-K program. According to Lindsey Smith, a Board Certified Behavior Analyst with Texana, initial testing is done on the children and appropriate programs are written to suit each child. Their progress is monitored and adjusted as needed.

Texana also offers monthly parent meetings, which are a very valuable tool for both the parent and teacher, to monitor progress. Parents and teachers express concerns or problems they experience, and in turn, adjustments are initiated to correct any issues.

 Amazing Transformation

Smith reported on Nicole’s amazing progress. “I started working with Nicole in September of 2013. It used to take her a long time to warm up to other therapists when she did not interact with them on a daily basis. Now, she greets them by name when they speak to her. I would say that her most improved area has been her social interaction with peers and adults. She now uses three to four word sentences when speaking with friends. She loves to play outside and pull her friends around in a wagon. Nicole now engages friends into activities as opposed to just joining in with them.”

Colwell stated that Nicole’s progress has been amazing. She has gained confidence and likes to make her own decisions. Nicole can hold conversations with others, and she has learned how to take turns. “We were so fortunate to have found Texana. She would not be where she is today without them.”

Nicole is on track to enter a kindergarten program this fall which is age appropriate. Her future looks brighter than ever.