Thomas will celebrate his fourth birthday next month but he has already received the gift of his lifetime.
He was diagnosed with a severe hearing impairment before he was even 24 hours old and two years later as autistic. Since finding the OSNS Child and Youth Development Centre his family’s world has undergone a dramatic turnaround.
“It’s hard to put into words our situation and just how complicated things have been, but they’ve really just given us hope and a purpose and a direction,” said his mother Mare, who is the on-air morning host at SUN FM. “Just to see his progress because he hasn’t been there that long (since Sept. 2014) it’s just so encouraging to see how far he’s come and how far he’s going to go.
“Without them now we would be absolutely lost. When he started regressing he stopped talking, he stopped communicating, he stopped looking us in the eye he just really reverted into himself. That was terrifying for us. We had no idea what to do that’s why I say it really was the last piece of a very intricate puzzle going to OSNS. We are just so thankful.”
Thomas still has to make regular trips to the BC Children’s Hospital in Vancouver where he had cochlear implant surgery, and to see specialists in Kelowna, but right now some of the most important help he receives is in Penticton.
“It is incredible that we live in such a small town and I can drive for three minutes to take him to such an amazing place,” said Mare. “If we didn’t have that support we would have had to quit our jobs, sell our house and move. There wouldn’t have been any other option.”
Along with a name change, the centre has undergone a number of service modifications, in particular, how clinical staff deals with its young clients like Thomas who have multiple-care issues.
“We’re endeavouring to more fully integrate our programs together. So for kids like Thomas who have multiple developmental needs we’re using trans disciplinary practise so that we really integrate goals together,” said Manisha Willms, the centre’s executive director. “We’re working much more as a fluid team and this not only helps the child and benefits the speed at which a child can progress, it also helps the parents.”
Thomas’ mother agreed the team aspect in orchestrating her son’s treatment has played a significant role in his rapid and continuing improvement.
“It’s really encouraging to see how they work together and how they work with us and Thomas just loves it,” said Mare. “He goes there and thinks he’s just playing for two hours he doesn’t understand learning, so he’s just having fun so that’s another testament to the work they’re doing.”
There is also the added benefit of the on-site Kinder Place preschool which Thomas also attends. That allows the workers to monitor his growth and help where needed.
She and husband Jeremy are especially glad to be considered as part of the team, working closely with clinicians to help in their son’s progress.
“They (staff) really helped us to be comfortable with his diagnosis and to know that, yes it’s devastating, but there is hope and that’s been a really important lesson for us and we’ve really leaned on the team and they’ve been there for us,” said Mare.
Willms added creating advocacy skills in parents is critical in their child’s development.
“So not only do they feel a partnership but ‘I am in the driver’s seat here so when their child goes on to school they will have many, many people in their child’s life who will need to understand what works or doesn’t work,” said Willms. “Parents know their kids best, they’re the ones who are experts on their child.”
At his birthday party in May it will be Thomas’ mom and dad who will be celebrating for the very special gift they have been given back.