James is our first born child and the true hero of our family. At a 20 week ultrasound, we learned he had a cleft lip which would require surgery and make feeding complicated as a newborn. He was born in 2016 with a unilateral complete cleft lip and a cleft palate and underwent 4 surgeries between the ages of 2 months and 18 months. It was clear to us early on that James had a certain bravery and resilience well beyond his years. When his speech was delayed, we first thought it may be related to his palate repair surgery. But we soon noticed some other communication and fine motor skills that he had previously mastered starting to diminish around age 2. We had James evaluated and after several long waiting lists, he was diagnosed with level 3 Autism at age 3. While this did not come as a surprise to us, it set us on a new path.

Since starting ABA therapy at KidsTLC in March 2020, James has regained skills like waving “hi” and “bye”, giving his little sister a hug when she asks for one, responding to his name consistently, letting us know when he has to go potty, and so many more things that seem small to some parents but are celebrated in our family. Now 5 years old, he is non-verbal and communicates well using picture icons for his basic needs like letting us know when he wants to “eat” using a food icon, or “potty” using a toilet icon, etc. When given an AAC device to test at KidsTLC for a short time, we were so happy to hear that James caught on quickly. As his parents, we strive to do everything we can to give James the skills he needs to advance in life and to meet his true potential. While we know him best and are accustomed to certain aspects of his communication, we know how important it is for him to be able to communicate with everyone else effectively as well. Whether it be for his own safety, to communicate basic needs, or just to feel socially connected with other people, we feel that an AAC device is the biggest and most important step for James to be able to share who he is and what he has to offer with the world. He is a kind-hearted, Elmo-loving, problem-solving, smart, silly, independent, unbelievably strong kid and we would love to give him a voice for everyone to hear.

If you, like Variety, believe every kid should be social, be active, and belong – please donate today – www.VarietyKC.org/donate

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