`We've got our son back'

04.12.2002 - BOP Times

Two years ago, Cheryle and Mike Everard could never have imagined the day their little boy Daniel would run up and hug them, let alone say the words ``mummy'' or ``daddy''.

The best the Tauranga couple could expect from their two-year-old _ who has autism _ was a screaming tantrum or stuff hurled at them.

Like a terrified animal, their child would scurry behind the furniture to hide. He would sit, banging his head incessantly against the wall, eyes rolling and neck swivelling.

Most hurtful was the way Daniel turned away from his parents, rejecting their love and never making eye contact.

Today, Daniel is a new boy after undergoing an amazing transformation _ speaking, playing, recognising shapes and sounds, learning to sit still _ all thanks to a revolutionary programme and the therapists who run it.

Known as the Lovaas Method, Daniel's programme is based on early intervention behavioural psychology _ and it's new to New Zealand.

Daniel's father is proud: ``Last year it felt I didn't have my son any more. Now he has come back. He still has autism, but he has come back.''

At the age of 20 months, Daniel was diagnosed with the brain disorder of autism.

He had no communication skills, he couldn't play, didn't know what toys were for and couldn't concentrate for much longer than a second.

His parents found it hard to love him.

The Everards are convinced Daniel's autism was triggered by the MMR vaccination for measles, mumps and rubella.

Daniel's case is one of hundreds that have researchers worldwide examining the autism-vaccine link.

The verdict was shattering to his parents who had given birth to a perfectly normal child but who, in his second year, slipped into a completely different world. But the family was given hope when they found out about the Lovaas Method, discovered by Professor Ivar Lovaas in the United States in the 1970s.

The professor achieved a 47 percent success rate in changing the behaviour of 19 newly-diagnosed autistic children with 4000 hours of one-on-one intensive therapy which focused on teaching the children communication skills to replace their bad and mad behaviour.

The programme is now used around the world but last year Australia was the closest country to New Zealand which had it.

The Everards were desperate and decided to try it, doing what others told them was ``absurd'' by flying a therapist from Sydney once every nine weeks to give Daniel therapy.

Their hopes were boosted further in March this year when the Centre for Autism and Related Disorders (CARD) set up a clinic in Auckland.

Erika Brown, the clinical supervisor at the centre, has played a crucial role in Daniel's turnaround, managing to turn the key in his brain.

Erika is one of a small team of therapists and experts in autism who have worked up to 25 hours a week with the Daniel for the past 18 months, using the Lovaas method to change his life and that of his family.

Now Erika comes every two months to work with Daniel and two other autistic children in Tauranga. Backing up her programme are another two therapists who come virtually every day of the week to continue Daniel's intensive therapy.

Daniel's success has motivated the Everards to set up the Western Bay of Plenty and Matamata-Piako Autistic Children's Trust which raises funds to help pay for local children to access the CARD programme.

Daniel's therapy has cost the Everards tens of thousands of dollars. Almost every cent has been from their pocket. Therapy costs $250 a week and Erika's two monthly seven-hour workshops clock up $120 an hour.

The huge financial and emotional strain hasn't been their's alone. Five-and-a-half year-old son, Jason, has had to cope with the intense distraction and focus that Daniel demands from his parents. Autism has stretched this family beyond any reasonable limits.

Simple things such as going to the supermarket, the doctor and the hairdresser _ all are spelt out in words and pictures in little books of pasted pictures made by Mrs Everard, so that Daniel can be prepared for each task.

But the problems fade every time they watch their little boy respond in leaps and bounds to therapy that is teaching him the basic skills of life.

Mrs Everard: ``I love the real Daniel and I am proud of him. He's worked so hard and come such a long way.''