BOSTON (CBS) — For parents who receive a diagnosis that their child has Autism Spectrum Disorder, it can be frightening and overwhelming to consider what it means for their child’s future. For Carol and Keith Noe of Brockton, it was a shock and they didn’t know where to turn.
As part of WBZ-TV’s “Eye on Education” Series, Carol Noe, who is a Registered Nurse, recommended a woman named Ann Essig as a “Top Teacher” because of the impact she had on their son, Josh. Carol says Ann helped him become “the best Josh he can be.”
WBZ cameras were there when Josh returned to the May Institute in Randolph with flowers for Ann. They both lit up as they hugged: “Hi Josh! It’s so good to see you!”
Josh smiled back, “It’s so good to see you, too!”
Ann commented “Look at you – you look so grown up now!”
“Yes, I do,” he replied.
But how do you thank someone who guided a child through severe symptoms of autism to a happy, smiling boy who is thriving in kindergarten? The Noes point out that Josh will always need services at school, but they could not envision the kind of progress he’s had that has made it possible for him to join his classmates at school.
“I actually thought we were going to bury him,” Carol Noe says. “I didn’t see — I didn’t see survival as a possibility with the symptoms I was seeing. It was too many symptoms.” Her husband Keith adds, “It was too drastic.”
Josh went from an advanced baby hitting all of his milestones to non-verbal at about eighteen months. Carol and Keith were distraught.
Carol describes her desperate attempt to get through to their little boy: “I held his little toddler cheeks in my hand and I was trying to get him to look into my eyes, and I remember saying to him ‘Josh come back, I miss you. I know you’re in there, we’re going to help you’ and as soon as I said that, I knew he wasn’t there.”
Carol’s mother, an education advocate, referred them to the May Institute. Josh began with home visits, and then went to May at age three. That’s when Ann Essig, a Board Certified Behavior Analyst and the Assistant Clinical Director at the May Institute, entered their life.
“Every step of the way she made it look easy,” Carol says. “None of this was easy but she made it look easy – she kept it simple.”
Essig is a 30-year veteran of Special Education who uses ABA, “Applied Behavioral Analysis,” – unique to each child – to help them learn by using positive reinforcement.
Essig says, “Just because they have a diagnosis of autism does not mean they can’t learn. All our kids learn, they all make progress.”
After two years of hard work, Josh was able to move to a typical public school kindergarten class.
Essig says she is still inspired to do this important work because of what she sees with her students every day. “The progress that I see every day with the children that are here, and autism being a spectrum disorder means that we are working with children who come to us with no communication skills, they’re non-verbal and we build on that,” she said.
As she watched Josh who returned to see her for the first time since he left for kindergarten last August, she smiles. “Oh I’m just, I’m thrilled,” Essig said. “I’m thrilled for him, I’m thrilled for his family.”
And what do the Noes want to say to Ann after everything they’ve been through together?
Carol expresses her gratitude through tears: “Like, when you financed your education, Ann, did you know you were financing my son’s future? She couldn’t have known, but that’s what she did. You went to school, you studied hard, you did what you had to do, and then you came here – and you changed my son’s life.”
Josh hugs Ann as he says goodbye. Ann tells him, “It was so so nice to see you. I’m glad that you’re learning so much more.”
“I’m glad too!” says Josh. And he’s on his way.
You can find information about the May Institute here: mayinstitute.org