Even at my worst, I'm best with you
Sarah Bretz, an autism specialist at the Judson Center, is the person responsible for introducing the two young children. Bretz was working with Brady in therapy for about a year when she decided to look for a “typical” child for him to interact with in a dyad.
A dyad is the smallest group. “It means two people,” Bretz said. “I facilitate play for the two boys.”
One of the most difficult things for children with autism spectrum disorder is to form a bond or friendship, so the goal of the dyad is to help Brady, who has trouble verbalizing, learn socialization skills from Adin, who has a large vocabulary.
Through the therapy, the two boys have bonded and have come to refer to one another as best friends.
“I really don’t have to do much,” Bretz said. “It’s pretty much all Adin. Brady is a different kid when he plays with him.”
Bretz makes a chart with list of games for the boys to play. The children follow it so they know what to expect. Each activity has a set amount of time.
The boys learn to how to follow a clock and directions. They learn how to ask for things they need and how to interpret feelings. For example, if there are two toys to play with, one child will ask, “What toy do you want to play with?” Then after a few minutes, they will verbally decide whether it’s time to switch toys.
“As a therapist, I try to make it fun for both boys,” Bretz said. “I don’t want one of them to feel like they are coming here as a favor or that this is work.”
If the boys complete all of their tasks and follow directions, they win a piece of candy.
“It helps keep them motivated,” Bretz said.
Someone I'll always laugh with
When Brady was 21 months old, his father, Chad Kujala, said the toddler’s verbal skills stopped developing. “He didn’t start going backwards, but he stopped progressing,” he said.
Kujala and his wife, Kelly, had Brady evaluated. They changed his diet and got him into speech and language therapy.
“His language has improved a lot in the last year,” Kujala said. “Brady is very energetic, and we know he looks forward to coming here. He can’t always verbalize it, but when we say we are going to see Adin, he gets very excited.”
The therapy is making a difference, Kujala said.
“He is initiating conversation with the other kids at (Springfield Plains Elementary in Clarkston) now,” he said. “He plays and talks. A year ago, he didn’t do that.”
Erin Weiner says her son Adin, who goes to Burton Elementary in Huntington Woods, gets a lot out of the dyad, too.
“They have a lot in common. They love to play with trucks and play hide and seek,” Weiner said. “Adin doesn’t ask why we come here. He has no idea this is therapy.”
Weiner, an intervention support teacher at Burton Elementary, works with third- through fifth-graders on their reading and math skills. When Bretz approached her with the dyad idea, Weiner was happy to volunteer her son.
“Adin talks about Brady all the time,” she said. The boys even have play dates outside of the Judson Center. They meet to go swimming or have lunch.
Weiner said she is seeing the benefits of the therapy in her son, too. “He has learned how to be patient,” she said.
And he is learning to be the child who will stick up for other children, said Bretz.
“Brady likes to play with me,” Adin said. “I would be sad if I didn’t get to see him.”
“If there comes a day when this (therapy) doesn’t need to be done anymore, we will find some way to still keep them together,” said Weiner.
More about Autism Connections
The Judson Center's Autism Connections offers music, art and play-based therapy for children, teens and adults with autism spectrum disorders. They also offer counseling for siblings of children with autism.
Facilitated play dyads are designed for children aged 4-12 and can be done at Judson Center, at home, or in the community. Sessions last 45 minutes.
The center is located at 4410 W. Thirteen Mile Rd. in Royal Oak.
For more information call 248-837-2047 or visit the Autism Connections website.
*Lyrics to I'll Be There for You by Danny C. Wilde, David L. Crane, Michael Jay Skloff, Marta Fran Kauffman, Phil Solem and Allee Willis.