Meet Caleb Cookman, a 9 year old tennis player from our Mountain View, CA program. Caleb’s story of diagnosis, as explained by his mother Ellen, is slightly different than most. “Friends who are well versed in children with special needs saw some concerning behaviors and my mother noticed that Caleb kept turning the light switch on and off. To be honest, I got him tested to prove my mom wrong,” she said laughing.
Getting the actual diagnosis was a shock for both her and her husband Scott, especially that both of them work with kids with special needs. Her husband Scott is a special education teacher (learning disabilities and behavioral issues) and Ellen is a Special Need planner. “Scott was shocked by the diagnosis but once the psychologist showed him the behaviors, the lightbulb went on and he was on board.”
Ellen opened up about a conflicted period of time after the diagnosis. “It’s hard, but parents have to get on the same page about the diagnosis and some don’t get past that.”
Caleb is a very bright and intellectual child whose challenges are on the social and emotional fronts. “He is working on accepting no, learning how to go back and forth during a conversation and taking interest in someone else,” the mother of two told us. They started pivotal response therapy which has been helpful for Caleb. Isaac, his little brother, now comes during the session so they can play together. “We don’t focus on Caleb’s diagnosis with Isaac though, so it’s just his brother.” The 7 year old goes to a full inclusion school where he’s learned copying skills and has developed acceptance.
Caleb has developed a love for running, legos and writing stories. “He is a rule follower so he follows instructions to build his legos. He is also creative, his stories are based on his experiences,” as she shows me a paper over the computer filled with squares with drawings in them representing an activity he did during the day.
You can now add tennis to his activities. “I played tennis in High School so I thought it would be great to share something with him. ACEing Autism is great because it’s a physical activity, it’s not competitive, and I loved that there was a broad range of abilities.” At the beginning, Caleb complained a lot that he was tired but little by little, he was able to stay on court longer. “He is really structured so once he got into a routine and knew what was coming, and once they got to know him, the volunteers got him to do the things that he loved.”
For Ellen, it’s also important that Caleb has his special thing and that’s what ACEing Autism is. Through his time in the program and his work in therapy, Caleb has improved a lot on accepting no. “The tennis program has taught him how to take turns, clean up before going to the next thing, even though that’s still something he is working on,” she said smiling.
She hopes that maybe in the future she can play with Caleb but for now she enjoys seeing him having fun, making new friends and continuing to improve on and off the court. To show how far he’s come, Ellen laughs as she tells us that “Scott is working on sarcasm, Caleb can now recognize it.”
Congratulations Caleb on everything you’ve accomplished so far! We can’t wait to see what you achieve next!