Photos Courtesy Marianne Treadwell
Like lots of nine year-old girls, Avery Treadwell of Haymarket loves to play with her dolls, watch movies, and create unique concoctions in the kitchen. She also loves Legos, Barbies, and sewing, a skill she taught herself. And while you might think her pink headphones are just another cool, pre-teen fashion accessory, they are so much more. Completely noise-cancelling, Avery’s headphones protect her from being overwhelmed by sound.
Avery was diagnosed with autism shortly before she turned two. A healthy baby girl who was developing as expected, her parents, Marianne and Trey, started to notice that she wasn’t making eye contact, answering to her name, or showing any interest in playing with other children. At Avery’s 18-month check-up, her pediatrician recommended she see a developmental pediatrician.
At the Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore, Avery’s diagnosis was swift and without question. The only question that remained was … now what?
“For me, trying to figure out proper therapy for Avery who wasn’t even two, was like finding a needle in a haystack. The information online was overwhelming and confusing,” Marianne said.
The literature the Treadwells received from Kennedy Krieger Institute recommended that Avery receive 25-40 hours per week of therapy. But what kind? The Kennedy Krieger team didn’t feel Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), a common Autism therapy, was appropriate for Avery because of her young age, but they didn’t offer an alternative.
Like other families suddenly whalloped with an autism diagnosis, the Treadwells knew nothing about available therapies so, when a friend recommended The Floortime Center in Bethesda, Maryland, they jumped on it. It was play-based therapy and from what they could gather there was no other place quite like it in the area. The only drawback was the high cost, none of which was covered by insurance at the time. Thanks to assistance from family, Avery was able to spend 18 months at Floortime while also receiving one home visit a week through the Early Intervention Program in Prince William County.
The older Avery has gotten, the more apparent the differences between her and her peers have become, but she doesn’t seem to notice. Now in fourth grade, Avery has significant deficits with social skills and struggles in math and reading. But she also has some wonderful gifts in areas such as remembering dates and relating them to special occasions and holidays.
Learning to navigate the labyrinth of the various therapies, special ed services and insurance coverage has been a full-time job for Marianne. Not to mention juggling her 10-year-old son’s busy schedule. And yet, when you ask about Avery, Marianne lights up sharing funny stories about her quirky personality. What might make other moms cringe, like having their child make a mixture of flour, salt, and baking soda just to see what will happen to it in the freezer, or putting glue sticks in the microwave, makes her laugh and you can see the patience, understanding, and love she has for her daughter.
Like many special needs moms, Marianne is a great mom. But that doesn’t mean caring for Avery hasn’t taken its toll.
With Avery’s noise sensitivity, she can’t go to her brother’s swim meets or sports games, which means Marianne and Trey have to take turns. Both worry that their son isn’t getting as much attention he might otherwise. And rarely do Marianne and Trey get to go out alone. When parents are in the thick of it, it’s easy to forget that date nights and family nights are important aspects of family life.
Recently, Marianne learned about A Mother’s Rest, an organization that provides respite retreats for parents and caregivers at little or no cost. In May she will visit its Terrace Guest House in New Market, Maryland, and is eager to share with other moms how important it is to take care of yourself.
Marianne has learned that this journey is a marathon, not a sprint, and self-care is critical. “I want to encourage moms to lean on one another,” she said. “Reach out and share your experiences. Learn from others who may have been through the same thing.”
For information on A Mother’s Rest, visit AMothersRest.org.