By Earl Holland | Delmarva Media Group
SALISBURY — Crystal Holman sat in her dining room going over one flash card after another as her 8-year-old son Hayden rattled off the printed words.
“This, to, be, an, is, I … go!” Hayden said.
While it might have looked like a fun word game, it meant much more to Crystal and Hayden. Hayden, diagnosed with severe autism at the age of 2, has a vocabulary of more than 8,500 words and can speak French.
Hayden’s amazing progress, something few people expected outside of the Holman family, recently was recognized, for he was the recipient of a Temple Grandin Scholarship, a $250 award that goes to someone with autism or Asperger syndrome who has made a major accomplishment.
“He has such an incredible life now compared to the old days,” Crystal Holman said. “He’s come a long way.”
Hayden showed no signs of autism when he was born and developed normally until the age of 18 months. Crystal Holman said it started when the usually talkative and playful child began withdrawing from social activity.
“He just started changing,” she said. “He stopped looking at us, he stopped touching things, he absolutely stopped talking, and he couldn’t even pick up a cup. He’d push it with his fists but couldn’t pick it up.”
Because of Hayden’s inability to interact, he would become catatonic. When he became upset, he would become violent, sometimes beating, slapping and kicking his mother and other family members. With autism, the violence is said to be as a result of communication frustration.
“It was a mess,” Crystal Holman said. “My mother would joke by saying he’s the WWE baby because of the things he would do.”
Holman went from doctor to doctor to find out what was wrong with Hayden, and many of them diagnosed him as being a “spoiled brat.”
“They were basically stating that I was a bad mother,” she said. “I thought to myself, ‘How could this be when I had a daughter who was 9 years old who was a sweet, wonderful child that would shake your hand and say hello?’”
Hayden’s condition finally was diagnosed during a trip to the doctor’s office for vaccinations.
After doing research on autism, Holman began taking steps to curb some of Hayden’s actions, starting with a change in his diet. Hayden started to drink soy and rice milk instead of traditional dairy and ate gluten-free products. He became calmer and less hyperactive, but he still remained nonsocial.
Some neurologists suggested that Hayden be institutionalized for the remainder of his life, something Crystal Holman and her husband, Chris, would not allow to happen.
Also around that time, Hayden’s sister, Hope, began a letter-writing crusade to President George W. Bush and Bill Gates, with little avail, and, eventually, wrote to Dr. Temple Grandin, a has autism.
“I love my brother, and I would do anything because to help him,” said Hope, now 16. “Because I prayed for a brother for so long, I knew that I couldn’t settle with just accepting. I had the highest hopes that he would come out of it and he would progress to his full potential, and that’s when I started to get involved.”
Hope’s letters made an impact, for Grandin contacted Crystal Holman and during that conversation Holman learned about using verbal applied behavior analysis, which included 60 hours a week of training with Hayden.
In addition to Grandin, Crystal Holman relied on the help of Future Horizons, a company that publishes book and provides speakers on the issue of autism, and Dove Pointe, which provides services to people with disabilities.
Samantha Kenney has been Hayden’s aide at Dove Pointe for the last couple of years and also has seen the changes in Hayden.
“When I came here, his language was very limited,” she said. “He couldn’t do most tasks by himself. He didn’t have the independent skills. Now he wants to do things by himself.”