10 years ago, before we discovered Giant Steps, my husband and I were facing the frightening position of having our 9-year-old son “kicked out” of the special needs school he had been attending for five years. Over that time, our son had begun to exhibit behaviors that the school felt unequipped to handle. Although all of us had noticed patterns to these behaviors such as their tendency to escalate at certain times of year, the notion that something physiological was going on with him was never considered. His behaviors were treated as psychological in nature and they were dealt with solely through “behavior modification” strategies. Rather than improving the situation, though, we saw a steady rise in these behaviors while he was at this school.

Switching over to Giant Steps in 2002 felt like arriving at a “safe” place where our son could be better understood. At Giant Steps they quickly determined that our son’s difficult behaviors were directly related to his seasonal allergies and the chronic headaches he was unable to communicate to us that he was suffering. His behaviors, in fact, were the ONLY means he had at that time to communicate how he was feeling. The previous school, by trying to “extinguish” those behaviors was in fact denying him the only way he had to tell us something was wrong. The other school had also stressed only spoken communication rather than encouraging our son to use other means to communicate. Giant Steps immediately focused on helping him communicate through use of a communication device. The very first thing he communicated to us with this device after being “difficult” during a haircut appointment? That he had a headache!

As parents we cannot feel luckier or more grateful to have our son at Giant Steps School. However, our story makes me think about all of the children in more traditional special needs schools and wish the Giant Steps model could be the standard rather than something extraordinary!

-Suzanne Greenawalt

Our son has Autism. Every professional we consulted told us all the things our son couldn’t do well and would never be able to do, but we wanted more for him and believed there was so much more in he was capable of. Once he came to Giant Steps, we learned about all the things that Brian could do.
From the first day we walked into Giant Steps School, we knew he would be happy and safe there. We now spend our time talking about all the things Brian can do. With the support of the staff there, he can ride a horse, attend a birthday party, play games, he can play the piano and the guitar, he can go grocery shopping, he can cook a pizza and most importantly, he can eat that pizza with a friend. We owe all of that to the staff at Giant Steps School. They believe in our son and all of the other students there. To walk into that building and observe what happens on a daily basis is to know the true meaning of dedication, determination and love. Thanks to them, as Dr. Seuss says – Oh the Places You’ll Go!

-Carol Lenihan

Starting in December of 2009, Robert’s journey at Giant Steps School has been graced with a team of patient, caring and extremely dedicated teachers, IAs, therapist and volunteers.
Change has always been a challenge for Robert producing much anxiety and fear – a byproduct of Robert’s diagnosis of autism and sensory disorder. Before coming to Giant Steps Robert was unable to participate in a typical classroom setting. Undaunted, the extremely dedicated team of professionals and volunteers utilized individualized programs of therapies where today Robert is not only learning, but thriving in many areas of his life – socially and academically.
Robert participates in various field trips into the community where he learns how to function in various commercial and social settings. Whether it is in music or horseback-riding -all of the therapies provided by Giant Steps have helped to give him a great sense of belonging, pride and confidence in situations which were previously overwhelming to him.
Today Robert loves learning at school, helping other students and saying the Pledge of Allegiance on the PA system every morning!
As Robert continues to thrive and make great strides – it is safe to say that this immense transformation in our son’s life would not have been possible without Giant Steps!

– Linda V. Bolton

“It is not how many needles she’s been pricked with, how much testing she has undergone, how many hours in hospitals, how many doctor’s she’s seen, or how many hours spent in therapy, to me her pluckiness is measured in how she is able to smile despite it all.” Alyssa MacKenzie, Cayla’s Big Sister
We spent the better part of Cayla’s childhood protecting her from herself in many ways. Cayla, who wasn’t able to express herself through words, banged her head against the floor or with her hand for the first decade of her life. Doctors and specialists in the field of chromosomal abnormalities offered very little in the way of definitive explanations for her behavior. Many educators in the field embraced the belief that the window of opportunity for kids like Cayla had essentially closed by the age of 12. A visit to LADDERS of Boston would finally provide the answers we had been seeking for the better part of Cayla’s life; she had been suffering from seizures all these years and banging her head was her way of asking for help. Alyssa, her older sister, says her heart broke when she learned Cayla was hurting herself because she was in pain. She recalls feelings of helplessness and pride after discovering the extent of Cayla’s suffering; “Helpless, because as her older sister she had failed to make her feel better. Proud because she was again reminded just how strong her sister was.” The huge black cloud that seemed to loom over our heads began to lift as we received more answers to questions that had puzzled us for so long. Following referrals and recommendations, Cayla was enrolled in Giant Steps in 2001.
The teachers and therapists at Giant Steps “did exactly what they said they were going to do.” From the start, Cayla was treated with respect; the staff instantly recognized her potential and their collective goal was to guide her to reaching it to the fullest. Her therapies were more “intensive, research based, leading edge, and appropriate.” With some hard work and dedication from Cayla and her educators, it became clear her talents and interests were far reaching. I asked the staff to experiment with various techniques in an attempt to uncover her intellectual capabilities and knowledge of the world around her. What they discovered would surprise everyone.
Through work with a static alpha board and some assistance from her teachers, Cayla began to literally spell out her thoughts and feelings. Today, she has advanced to working with an iPad to communicate with others and she even has a Facebook account and her own blog!
To this day, Cayla’s window of opportunity remains wide open with beautiful views of the future. Cayla graduated in the spring and while her plans for life after Giant Steps are still in the works, “she will never stop learning.” Her ability to smile through adversity will take her far in life – Perhaps Alyssa encapsulates it best when she says her “beaming, fashionable, gorgeous, scrappy little sister who is certainly not shy on personality or sense of humor is the most courageous person she knows.”

Hey!

Ben here, Iinstructional Assistant in Patty’s classroom. For those of you who don’t know, I will not be returning to Giant Steps next year :-(

It is important to me though to thank you all and tell you how much all the help, guidance, and friendship I’ve received has meant to me. I think that sometimes here it can be rough, and easy to lose perspective on how special this place really is. I’ve worked in different places in different roles from Alaska all the way back to Connecticut and I just want you all to know I’ve learned that what we’ve got here at GS is really special. I’m sure everyone here knows already! I’m so thankful for having been a part of it, and plan to continue my association with the school long after I finish nursing school. P.S. Attached is a picture I thought some of you might enjoy. If you are wondering where it was taken it was at Deer Creek Falls, a tributary of the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon. I did this trip back in April, and when I was out there it became clear to me how valuable my experiences at Giant Steps really were.
– Ben Verbil

A truly transformational change in the medical treatment of autism is on the horizon, and the origins of this exciting development can be traced to Kathy Roberts and the Giant Steps School. Our company, Seaside Therapeutics, was founded to translate break-through scientific discoveries into innovative treatments to improve the lives of patients and families with autism, fragile X syndrome and other neurodevelopmental disorders. We approach autism from the “bottom up”, focusing on how signals in the brain are processed differently in the face of gene mutations that cause autism and intellectual disability. However, Kathy and her colleagues at Giant Steps take a “top down” approach by paying close attention when children show improvements. Giant Steps staff are trained to ask: Why is it happening, what’s different, how can it be sustained? It was this keen eye for detail that led Kathy to wonder if a sudden improvement in her daughter’s behavior arose from a drug prescribed as a last resort to treat intestinal upset. After a few conversations with Kathy and a little brainstorming, we realized that the drug likely was acting on brain processes that we had discovered go awry in autism. This collision of bottom-up research and top-down observation led to Seaside’s development of a drug called STX209, now in clinical trials for autism and fragile X. It is no exaggeration to say that without Kathy and Giant Steps, development of this drug for autism would have never occurred.
– Randy Carpenter, MD and Mark Bear, PhD, co-founders of Seaside Therapeutics

A quote from an executive, client, volunteer or charity recipient stating how Newman’s Own Foundation has helped to make a difference.

At the Giants Steps School miracles happen everyday. Every time I step in the building I am amazed by all around me, students, educators, staff, families, and volunteers all working to overcome the challenges of Autism. Making a difference is perhaps an understatement, life changing a more accurate description. I had the honor of attending Giant Steps graduation and can truly say it was one of the most inspiring days of my life. The gift that Giant Steps gave each family as they cheered their graduate in a traditional cap and gown ceremony was priceless. The amount of care the staff took in describing each student demonstrated their warm personal relationship with the graduate. It was not a time to reflect on what these children have missed, but to celebrate what they have contributed and to anticipate what their unique talents will continue to give all of us. In no way was this more personified then as I watched with tears in my eyes a staff member share the most beautiful poetic words of hope that were written by a non-verbal graduate. How could this be? Like I said, miracles happen every day at Giant Steps. These miracles could not happen without the support of a wonderful partner like Newman’s Own Foundation.

– Cindy Citrone, Giant Steps Volunteer