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A Tale of Two Ethans

The story of Ethan can be divided into two eras: life before attending the Day Treatment program of the Center for Autism and Developmental Disorders (CADD) in South Portland and since he started there. He is one of the one in 54 children in the U.S. estimated to have autism spectrum disorder. Like many facing such a life-altering diagnosis, Ethan’s parents are well acquainted with the challenges of finding the right program for their child.

Before CADD, Ethan was withdrawn, unhappy and emotionally dysregulated — as a term used to describe difficulty in managing emotions, such as fear or anger. That difficulty would present itself as outbursts of temper, irritability or other responses that may appear out of proportion for the situation. However, those reactions were understandable for a childlike Ethan who has autism and a significant anxiety disorder, who was in need of specialized treatment.

“He was lost in a maze of public schools,” said Janice, Ethan’s mother. “Those programs were staffed by caring teachers, but they simply lacked the formal education and expertise required to give our son the tools he needed to live a happy, full life.”

Despite these challenges Ethan demonstrated a mind that should be nurtured and celebrated. For instance, he was able to teach himself to play the piano for a school concert and easily memorized each piece.

“It’s important for people to understand that having a child like ours is a mix of highs and lows and can get dark at times. There has to be a balance of acceptance and denial in your personal story. It is the acceptance that provides a ray of hope.”

Beginning at age 13, Ethan increasingly struggled in school, at home, withdrew from his family and began displaying aggression when he was overwhelmed. This necessitated a five-week inpatient stay in the specialized Developmental Disorders unit at Spring Harbor Hospital. There he received intense interventions that included medication changes, behavioral therapy and the introduction of a structured daily schedule. He stabilized as he learned new coping skills from his care team on the unit and from his teachers at Spring Harbor Academy, the on-site school for children with developmental disorders in the hospital.

In December 2014, Ethan left Spring Harbor Hospital and became one of the first students at the CADD day treatment program. In this program, Ethan and his family were introduced to a highly specialized, collaborative approach to treatment. His care team includes a social worker, teacher, child psychiatrist, speech language pathologist, occupational therapist, behavior analyst and case manager.

Ann Brown, LCSW in the day treatment program has had the opportunity to participate in Ethan’s growth from the beginning. “Everybody knows Ethan. Since joining our program, he has become very sociable and loves to engage with adults and ask endless questions about their animals and the towns that they live in.”

Janice reflected: “CADD is a dream come true for overwhelmed, hopeless parents and caregivers as they search their hearts for the strength to carry on. It gave us hope for the first time with the assembly of such an amazing team with their advanced degrees, experience and true respect and compassion. The truth of our journey is that we have always believed that what CADD offers is clearly what was needed, and so our experience in raising Ethan was hopeful, rather than hopeless.”

Now 19 years old, Ethan will graduate from day treatment in the spring of 2021. His parents hope to transition him to the new CADD Adult Clinic which will be opening soon.

Learn more about the CADD Day Treatment program.