Nathan and Evan Suffriti. (Courtesy photo)

Early intervention helps a family live with an autism diagnosis in Peabody

PEABODY — As the world marked Autism Awareness Day Monday — kicking off Autism Awareness Month — a Peabody family can attest to the benefit of Early Intervention services.

Nathan Suffriti and his 5-year-old twin brother, Evan, were referred to Early Intervention shortly after birth. Evan was born with torticollis — a stiffening of the neck — and, because the twins were premature, both started receiving Early Intervention when they were only six weeks old.

The services were provided by Aspire Developmental Services — at that time known as North Shore Infant and Toddler. The home-based program includes developmental specialists, speech, occupational and physical therapy, and social work. The idea is to compensate for developmental delays.

As the twins grew, their parents, Hayley and Jason, noticed differences in their development; Nathan was not reaching the same milestones as Evan. Ariel Wallen, Aspire's Early Support program director and the Suffritis' service coordinator, recommended an evaluation by a developmental pediatrician.

At the age of 2 years, 9 months, Nathan was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder.

"It was very hard," his mother said. "But Ariel was instrumental in helping us navigate the system as Nathan was preparing to age out of EI."

Wallen and a few of Nathan's other therapists accompanied the family to its first Individualized Education Program (IEP) meeting with Peabody Public Schools. "They helped me get both boys into pre-school," Hayley Suffriti said.

"It was clear that Nathan needed a smaller classroom setting, with some additional supports," Wallen said.

Nathan now attends school at the Aspire Learning Center in Beverly (not affiliated with Aspire Developmental), a school for children with developmental disabilities, including autism. He also receives occupational therapy services at home, as does Evan, who is also in preschool.

While Nathan has his challenges, his mother said he is in a much better place having received a plethora of services virtually his entire life.

"I can't speak highly enough of the people at Aspire," she said. "They have been wonderful from the beginning. I don't think we would have survived the first three years without them. With autism affecting 1 in 68 children, it is very important that they receive services at an early age. That's where Aspire comes in."

Aspire's Early Intervention Program, established in 1974, provides services to more than 2,200 families on the North Shore each year. Early Intervention services are available to eligible children, from newborn to age 3, who have or are at risk for developmental delays due to established biological or environmental factors. The Aspire Early Intervention program provides family-centered, home-based services to facilitate the developmental progress of children.



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