Collaborating for Curtis

When Curtis Bell, Jr., was just 2 months old, his father, Curtis Sr., noticed that his eye movement seemed off somehow. When he asked his wife, Jennifer, about it she brushed him off. For the most part Jennifer felt Curtis was developing typically. “At first I didn’t notice much difference in him. He was a happy baby that liked different sounds and people and environments,” she says. “He was responsive with his eyes and held attention on objects. Whatever my husband was seeing, I just couldn’t see.”

Unmet milestones

When Curtis was 5 months old the family’s pediatrician gave them the go-ahead to introduce baby food. Curtis seemed interested and open to trying new foods, but after a week’s time he began refusing all food. Jennifer didn’t worry—she assumed that after a little break he would regain interest. However, that wasn’t the case. Curtis also refused to hold his bottle. This led to some frustration for his parents, but they figured that he would reach these milestones in his own time.

It had taken Curtis a year to start crawling, but he eventually got there. He even started holding his own bottle soon afterwards, so his parents assumed he would get to a place when he would be able to enjoy table foods. Yet at 18 months old, Curtis was still refusing food and was dependent on his bottle. They worked with him daily to get him to taste and hold down his food. And he did start eating purees.

“During this time I tried to get him to accept soft table food, but he would vomit. So, I didn’t force it. At this time he still wasn’t pulling himself up or walking. He also hadn’t met his language milestones.”

All the while, the Bells were taking Curtis to his regular pediatric checkups. “I was honest with the doctor about him not meeting milestones,” says Jennifer. “The doctor seemed a little worried, but he didn’t go into detail about his concerns.”

A prescription for autism screening

When Curtis was almost 3 years old, the Bells were given a pamphlet about autism and a prescription to have Curtis’s hearing and vision screened. “I was in a little bit of denial. It took a few months for me to get the nerve to go. I thought I could work with him on my own and improve his vocabulary,” says Jennifer.

After their screening, they were referred to a child psychologist who diagnosed Curtis with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Curtis began seeing a speech therapist in and outside of school as well as an occupational therapist. But the Bells wanted to give Curtis as much help as possible.

Participating in research at Marcus Autism Center

After talking to friends, clinicians and community members, they decided to apply for programs at Marcus Autism Center. “I knew that I needed to be proactive to help Curtis,” says Jennifer. “On our application we also stated that we would be interested in participating in research. Thankfully, Marcus called us. After talking with the coordinator, we decided Curtis would be a good fit for a language study.”

Curtis was enrolled in a 16-week research study in the Language and Learning Program. Jennifer says, “We’d been working with Curtis for some time and he had excellent help at school and at other centers, but the study at the Language and Learning Program took him over the top. His vocabulary skyrocketed. We saw an improvement in his being able to hold a conversation and ask questions of others. His speech therapist and occupational therapist both saw tremendous improvements. Curtis became so much more confident and self-assured.”

The difference of coordinated care

The Bells were thrilled with the way Curtis responded to the research study and wanted him to be able to benefit from clinical programs at Marcus Autism Center. He participated in the two-week Toilet Training Program and the eight-week inpatient Feeding Program. Today, he is in the outpatient Feeding Program. “Mealtime is easy now; he’s excited about it,” says Jennifer.

There’s is still work to do to help Curtis reach his full potential, but with the help of Marcus Autism Center, the family has high hopes for what Curtis can achieve.

“We’re excited about Marcus. We love Marcus,” says Jennifer. “We spend so much time there, and you can tell that families were top of mind when they designed it. There’s a lot of room and different spaces like the media center, the lounge and the playground. It’s a great place to be for kids and parents. They offer us hope. You don’t come here and get nothing. Marcus sees something in every kid, and they deliver results.”