Quilt of services
From horseback riding to gardening and therapy to skiing, Northwest Colorado offers a patchwork of programs to help individuals with autism spectrum disorders and other developmental disabilities work on social cognition, communication, life and work skills.
Although Nevaeh Smith receives therapy through the Yampa Valley Autism Program, she has not been diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder.
Her mother, Kia Smith, said her pregnancy with Nevaeh progressed normally, but when Nevaeh was born, she had an encephalocele, which is a defect that causes a protrusion from the head. In Nevaeh’s case, it was a golf ball-sized growth on the back of her head.
When Nevaeh wasn’t progressing developmentally and hitting typical milestones, Smith decided to have the encephalocele removed when her daughter was 6 months old. Nevaeh also had open-heart surgery to repair another health issue when she was between 1 1/2 and 2 years old.
The removal of the encephalocele helped Nevaeh begin to hit the milestones expected of children, but as part of her condition, a section of the corpus callosum, which links the two hemispheres of the brain, is missing.
“That’s why I call her diagnosis developmentally delayed,” Smith said. “It takes her brain longer to have the neural pathways to find the answers that she needs.”
Smith described Nevaeh as a sweet and helpful child.
“If someone is sad, she likes to comfort them,” she said. “She loves to people-watch. She’s always happy and willing to help out.”
Nevaeh will turn 10 next month, but mentally, she’s about 4, Smith said. “She’s still thriving, moving along and progressing.
“It’s great to have this program and that it has such an umbrella for kids that need help,” Smith said about the Yampa Valley Autism Program.
Nevaeh also is part of Horizons Specialized Services, is on an Individual Education Program through the Steamboat Springs School District, receives speech and occupational therapy through Yampa Valley Medical Center, skis with the STARS adaptive learning program and rides horses at Humble Ranch.
“I would have to say I’m very grateful for the community,” Smith said. “Most of the programs Nevaeh gets to do are scholarship. That’s solely how we get to do them.”
If it weren’t for scholarships and the community donating to the programs that provide the services, Smith said, Nevaeh would not be able to participate.
Nevaeh’s biggest issue is speech and talking, Smith said, and the social cognition therapy through Yampa Valley Autism Program gives her time to regroup and make up for some of the development she has missed with her condition.
Nevaeh learns what whole body listening looks like, the fundamentals of social playing and how to deal with her anxiety.
Instead of screaming and running away when entering a loud environment like a mall, Smith said, Nevaeh can use colored zones she learned through therapy to identify and express how she feels.
She can “socially work on some life skills that she’ll need throughout her life in order to identify with people to be able to cohabitate with the rest of the world,” Smith said.
Through Horizons and word-of-mouth, Smith learned about the STARS program at Steamboat Ski Area and how to get Nevaeh involved.
“I wanted to keep her active in the community and keep her physical activity up,” Smith said.
“She actually loves the skiing,” Smith said. “She really wants to be around people.
“They ski to the bottom of the mountain. They team up with some of the other instructors that have kids, and she gets to model them. It’s been really great as far as the motor skills go.”
Nevaeh also has taken to the horses and hippotherapy at Humble Ranch.
She named the horse she calls her own Frejha and now tells Smith “whoa” when riding in the car to let her mother know she wants to slow down.
“It really calms her person when she’s on the horse,” Smith said. “They do some great things. They make her feel aware of her space.”
The time on the horse and the movement also produces other benefits, Smith said. Riding helps Nevaeh not be so isolated and to regroup and see her surroundings better, Smith said.
“Our huge goal planning is for Nevaeh to learn the essentials of life skills,” Smith said.
Whether that’s getting used to riding the bus or learning how to count money and operate the self-checkout at the grocery store, it’s all working toward a point where Nevaeh can possibly function on her own.
“My goal is to make her independent and feel good about herself,” Smith said.
To reach Michael Schrantz, call 970-871-4206, email mschrantz@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @MLSchrantz