I can remember the day I first met Debbie Ide, and she assured me that insurance had to cover the treatment. (She was right. And she did all the paperwork, and fixed all the claims they tried to deny or underpay along the way.) She also has helped me work out a payment plan once I got separated, and could no longer make large payments toward my bill. Without her Hayden would never have attended Cornerstone, and I'm so grateful.
I remember the first day I met David, and he met with me individually and discussed his goals for the center (it was a few months old at the time.) I remember thinking, "this guy knows Autism, and he is doing all the right things."
I remember the first day Hayden met with Ken to see if he qualified for treatment. Hayden was still semi-verbal. He was so excited about the trampoline and all the balls and play equipment. He started saying "Aaaa-chooo!" I had to translate for Ken that this meant Hayden was excited. This was the first sign that Hayden was going to excel at Cornerstone.
This picture was taken when he visited for the first time.
It was difficult finding a child care center that would transport Hayden to Cornerstone. As soon as they heard the word "Autism Center" they had lots of reasons why Hayden couldn't be transported on their buses. One center finally agreed.
About two weeks after Hayden started there, he and I (and unborn Rylie) were in the car accident that changed everything about our lives. I still remember taking Hayden in to Cornerstone late, and seeing all the therapists, and having them hug me and ask if I was ok. My husband didn't ask if I was ok, but they did. They'd only known me two weeks, but they already loved Hayden, and genuinely cared about us.
I remember the day it was really icy outside when I dropped Hayden off at the front door at 8 months pregnant, so Fred held my arm and walked me back to my car.
I remember the day Hayden first told me he loved me, and I couldn't wait to tell his therapists.
I remember the first time I stood in the store and realized that we got all the way through without a single scream.
I remember going to visit Hayden in his little classroom in the new building at Cornerstone a few months ago. He sat at his desk, and the teacher asked everyone to get out their orange folder, and praised Hayden for following directions. And I remember thinking that I never thought he would get this far. Or at least not so fast. I was more proud than I've ever been. So far. : )
I probably have a million more memories I could list, but now I'm crying again.
And in three days, Hayden will start his first day of Mainstream Kindergarten. Not pull-out, special needs. In the "regular" class with the "typical" kids.
So here's my thank you note to Cornerstone. I wish that every child could be blessed with teachers or caregivers who have made as much of a difference as the staff of Cornerstone. I'm so impressed with how much each of them really cares about children, and with how hard they work every day, with very little thanks. Remember, many of their children are non-verbal. They can't say thank you. So I hope this will speak for those who can not say it on their own. : )
Dear Cornerstone Family,
As a teacher I know sometimes you do a job without much thanks. You work really hard, and get a lot of grief from people, and you get worn out.
But then there's a day when a child makes a breakthrough, or a parent says Thanks, and you build up your reserve of "It's Worth It." And you're ready to go back and keep doing that job, because you're really good at it, and it is worth it.
Well I hope that Hayden's journey, and my utmost, sincere, heartfelt thanks, will serve as a reminder to you: Each of you, every day, are changing lives.
I thought my son would never have a conversation. Or empathy. Or hold a job, or get married. I thought Autism was Forever.
And now I know, with diet and a lot of people who care to make a difference, there is Hope for Autism.
You've changed not just Hayden's life, but mine. And his sister's. And maybe (if he chooses) his spouse and children.
And to change one life is to change the world.
In the words of Tolkien,
"Even the smallest person can change the course of the future."
Thank you for changing Hayden,
That he may change the world.
The Damron Family
Sheila, Hayden, and Rylie
The Damron Family
Sheila, Hayden, and Rylie