It Takes a Village

Family Center Featured Article

It Takes a Village
By Brooke Avakian

brooke cooperEvery time I question living on Martha’s Vineyard, I look at all of the support this community has offered to my growing family and me. I have met so many incredible people in such a short amount of time that I feel truly lucky to call this island my home. Through friends and the Martha’s Vineyard hospital I learned about Martha’s Vineyard Community Services Family Center and over the last three years I have come to an understanding of just how special their support and services are to me. My husband and I have two children; Cooper who is three and Lillian who is 21 months. There are so many joys of parenting and there are also some scary steps!

When our son Cooper turned two I noticed that he didn’t have as many words as his peers did. I tried not to compare him to others his friends but I was getting frustrated and knew in my heart that I needed to investigate some more. He was frustrated that his words and basic needs were not coming across clearly and that made me determined to seek out some help.

So where did I begin? Well, I knew the Family Center was part of Martha’s Vineyard Community Services, so I reached out to some of my mommy friends and I was told about Early Intervention. As Cooper’s mom it is my job to be his advocate, so as hard as it was to pick up the phone and call about there being a potential problem, I did. The next week Early Intervention providers came to my home to evaluate my son. We talked about our concerns and what services they could provide for him. The evaluations were age appropriate and he was so excited to have new people come and play with him! He qualified for services, so in March we began our journey. We learned strategies as a family and they even included my daughter in all of the activities, which was wonderful for her as well.

As a few weeks passed I started to see some improvements and then I started to see him not be interested and he was lashing out with his behavior. I have been around young children my entire life and I have my degree in Early Childhood Development I felt deep down there was something more going on. My main goal as a parent is to have a happy and healthy child, and I was beginning to see behaviors that I didn’t know how to handle.

My next step with the help and support of Early Intervention was to talk to his pediatrician. We got referrals to Boston Children’s Hospital and Tufts Floating Hospital. These appointments are extremely hard to get and there is a ton of paperwork that needs to be done before you really feel like you are getting anywhere. My husband and I had to be each other’s biggest supporters until we had more answers.

Towards the end of the summer we finally had Cooper evaluated. He has been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder that affects his language skills and sensory processing skills. It was probably the hardest thing for me to hear as a parent and it took me months to process it. Early Intervention was wonderful with helping us get the supports we needed.

Cooper has recently turned 3 and has transitioned into Project Headway Preschool in the Oak Bluffs School. It was a big step for me to let him be away from me 5 mornings a week, but it is exactly what he needs and we have an amazing team put together to help him reach his full potential. He is our happy, funny and smart little boy, and his self esteem is soaring because he is beginning to communicate and have people understand him.

As we continue our parenting journey which has its highs and lows we couldn’t be more thankful to all the helping hands that have supported us.

I got in touch with Kathi Hackett who was absolutely amazing. She is the director of supports for families. She provided me with resources to help, and talked to me about the lending library that community services has set up for families as a support tool to help with all sorts of needs, not just for autism. As his parents we noticed Cooper liked lots of big hugs and squeezes so Kathy suggested trying out a weighted blanket and lap pals. By trying out these materials we decided to purchase him his own weighted blanket to sleep with every night and he loves it!

Being a parent is the hardest job that I have ever taken on. The most important message I hope that others get from our story is that no matter what personality you have, you are your child’s biggest advocate. You need to keep your positivity up and keep pushing forward even when your frustration levels are high. It is a rollercoaster of emotions when you are a parent of a child with special needs, but it is up to you to paint the path for success and happiness. Each and every child is different and you never know what is coming your way. I am thankful each and everyday that Cooper has chosen us to be his parents because he is our biggest teacher and he has opened our eyes to what is important within our family. It takes a community to raise a child and I’m so happy I found the supports thanks to the Family Center and Community Services on Martha’s Vineyard.