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April is Autism Awareness month

Lance Pratt, “horse whisperer” Lance Pratt, “horse whisperer”

Autism is a disorder that holds much mystery and few definitive answers. It is a spectrum disorder that deeply impacts families and their children on many different levels.

An emotional reunion was held in the home of the Pratt family to talk about what autism means for them. Cheryl and Scott are typical parents of four growing sons, ages 17, 15, 13, and 9. Their second son Lance was given an early diagnosis of autism 13 years ago at the age of 2. Cheryl recalls those early years tenderly, with his Early Intervention Specialist Susie Maloney. Cheryl states" I don't know what I would have done without you!" When asked to recall what the biggest help in those early days of diagnosis and therapies was, Cheryl teared up and said,” I will never forget the day you showed me that Lance was capable of giving me eye contact. You gave me hope! I needed to see that he could be like other children.”

Following the diagnosis, Cheryl and Scott opened their home to therapies 3x a week. Therapies included an integrated approach of sensory integration, signing, visual strategies, floor time, joint attention activities and ABA strategies. Lance began to make huge strides with his development. They also enlisted the help of a Behavioral Specialist. Children with autism do not process the world the way typical children do. The typical behavioral strategies and motivators do not prove effective with children on the spectrum. Lance would perseverate when he became anxious, had a high tolerance for pain and did not understand physical and social boundaries. Cheryl recalled the times that Lance would cut himself and draw blood, and not feel any pain. Cheryl states that his high tolerance for pain is still quite a concern. His mom shares that he can eat a bowl of steaming hot noodles and it will not faze him.

“Lance's three brothers are in his court. They are quick to voice that they love their brother. They hate autism," said Cheryl

Cheryl and Scott have become champions for Lance. Lance has had a special fondness for horses since childhood. They have provided him with many opportunities to pursue his interest and he has since become an accomplished rider. He is now affectionately called "the horse whisperer". Lance has a special bond and communication style with the horses he works with. He now earns his riding time by cleaning the stalls and grooming the horses.

Lance is well known and accepted by his high school peer group. He informs his mom that he doesn't want to be single. Socially, Lance has come a long way from the little boy whose parents initially thought that he was deaf and was not interested in social engagement in any form.

Lance accompanied his mother to a recent Support Group meeting following their return to the area. He surprised everyone by greeting Susie and Sandy (his support specialist) with a hug and calling each by name. His mother was shocked that he knew names, after all these years. “He was only told that he was attending a meeting,” said Cheryl. That is a testimony of Lance's potential for early imprinting, memory skills and his ability to bond. Lance has touched the lives of many people. He is truly an inspiration.

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