MENÚ

Piecing the Puzzle Together: A Journey to Diagnose Autism Brings Family to ACH & Dennis Developmental Center

Angeletta Giles just knew.

It was that gut feeling that parents talk about. Something didn't seem typical about her daughter Londyn's development. But Angeletta and Londyn's father weren't getting answers in their Tennessee community.

"We had an assessment at our home, and they told us, 'Nothing is wrong. She may just have a slight delay,'" Angeletta recalls.

Londyn was 18 months old. Just months earlier, she had been humming along in a sweet toddler voice when her mom sang the ABCs. She even used a few words before she was a year old.

"But all of that had slowed down to the point of stopping," Angeletta said. "I kept hearing that if she went to daycare and interacted with other children, she'd be fine. And I just knew that wasn't right."

Angeletta’s mother encouraged her to return to Arkansas, where she had grown up, and seek further evaluation for Londyn.

"We got her in an early intervention program in North Little Rock, and the therapist was very frank with me. She said, 'This is not just a speech delay. I see signs that are consistent with autism.'"

Londyn's Arkansas pediatrician referred her to autism specialists at Arkansas Children's Hospital and the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. The pieces of the puzzle came together there, when they officially diagnosed Londyn with autism spectrum disorder.

The family was scared, but Angeletta was ready to meet the challenge head on. Angeletta immersed herself in literature on the disorder.

She enrolled Londyn in educational interventions ranging from physical, speech and occupational therapies to community activities like church, dance and cheerleading.

And there’s no question it’s paid off, says Dr. Maya Lopez, an autism specialist who sees patients on the Arkansas Children’s Hospital campus and is a UAMS Associate Professor of Pediatrics.

"Autism is a condition where the treatment goes beyond the walls of a clinic or a hospital," Dr. Lopez said. "It involves the entire community around Londyn. For Londyn to break out of her shell and have better social awareness, she needs opportunities to be with other children."

When Londyn began treatment, she was using guttural sounds instead of words. Now she's in a mainstream classroom at Roberts Elementary in Little Rock and even recently sang the National Anthem at an Autism Speaks event.

Dr. Lopez credits Angeletta’s drive to help her daughter.

“In my opinion, the experience and practice opportunities that Londyn has gained in community activities have made a big difference,” Dr. Lopez said.

The family’s connection to the autism community has grown even stronger, with Angeletta now serving as a family care navigator at the UAMS Dennis Developmental Center, which sits on the ACH campus. She also recently wrote a family engagement grant for Autism Speaks.

"Parents need a mentor when their kids are diagnosed," Angeletta said. "I'm glad we can offer what we've learned to help them figure out the disorder and how they can live this wonderful life within it."