Leading into his first birthday, Linden McDaniel had achieved all the same milestones as his twin brother, Declan.
“He did all the same things Declan did. He rolled over, sat up, crawled and walked. He said ‘mama,’ ‘dada,’ ‘nana’ and ‘papa.’ He would coo and become excited when he encountered new people or saw something on TV,” the mother of 4, Amber McDaniel says.
It wasn’t until around 12 months that Amber and her husband James started noticing changes in Linden’s behavior and development. He was no longer responding to his name or taking an interest when someone walked into a room.
“It was like he was in his own world. I could turn on toys, make funny noises or clap, and he would not look,” Amber says. “It came to a point where we thought he had some hearing issues.”
So, at 18 months, they sought support through the Arizona Early Intervention Program (AzEIP), which confirmed an autism diagnosis. Within a week of their evaluation, the family was referred to SARRC by the team at AzEIP. Additionally, Amber’s co-worker recommended SARRC’s JumpStart® program, which she had attended with her son nearly 20 years ago.
Getting a jump start
The McDaniels immediately enrolled in JumpStart, which proved to be an essential resource for the family then, and even now, years later.
“After your child is diagnosed there is a very strange time of relief, grief and confusion —sometimes all in one day. JumpStart gave me the courage I needed and the knowledge about what my next steps should be,” Amber says.
JumpStart helps families who are new to autism by providing important information, support and strategies. The program connects families with a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) and covers topics ranging from utilizing interventions like applied behavior analysis and Pivotal Response Treatment, how to access state services as well as insurance services, and advocating for an Individualized Education Plan.
“The tools we were provided were invaluable,” Amber says. “We were advised about what resources were available to us and how to best utilize those resources. We were also trained on different practice styles like PRT, which we still use every day. I was given hope in that program that I was afraid I would not get. I was given a community to rely on and other parents who understood my situation.”
After the family completed JumpStart, they continued with intervention and treatment, as well as attended a preschool program until SARRC’s newest Community School campus in Scottsdale opened.
Enrolling twins in the Community School
In the summer of 2021, both Linden and Declan were enrolled in SARRC's Scottsdale Paiute Campus located within the City of Scottsdale’s Paiute Neighborhood Center, where they attend a pre-K classroom together.
The Community School offers a unique model where children with and without autism learn alongside one another in a blended classroom. Over the last year the family has attended the preschool program, they report positive changes in both boys.
“Linden works so hard every day and the progress he has made has been amazing. He has significantly improved in responding to his name, staying close by through decreased elopement, and now has the ability to participate in classes by sitting in one spot for longer periods of time,” Amber says. “The team is so energetic, and it is evident that they truly care about the work that they are doing.”
There has also been great progress with his augmentative communication device, which has provided Linden with a voice he otherwise does not have.
And for Declan, Amber shares that his empathy and caring nature are even more amplified.
“He can see the differences between himself and the other children but does not let that affect his perception of their friendships. He likely talks enough for the entire class and truly enjoys going to school daily. Of his peers, he frequently makes statements like, ‘He doesn’t talk like me, but we still have fun doing other stuff like playing tag!’”
As for the future, Amber and James, have many hopes and goals for both Linden and Declan.
“I hope that Linden is able to make meaningful relationships that provide him the happiness that he brings others,” Amber says. “I hope that he finds his place in this world and that he is able to find what fulfills him knowing we are always here to support him. And I hope that he finds his voice because I cannot wait to hear him say ‘mama’ and ‘dada’ again!”