Health Family Fall I Winter 2017 - Page 11

Mind Over Matter Duncan Volpe gains social skills, self-confidence and coping mechanisms at the Center for Autism and Developmental Disabilities Partial Program. By Nancy Kirsch M eet Du nc a n Volpe : Th is energetic and extraordinarily ar- ticulate nine-year-old is wild about antiquing, building things, swim- ming, reading and gardening. Even during a first encounter, Duncan’s passions are obvious. But what’s less apparent is why he received treatment at Bradley Hospital’s Center for Autism and Developmental Disabilities (CADD) Partial Program: Duncan has autism, crippling anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and panic attacks. Because Duncan feared that bad things would happen at home in his absence, he refused to attend school often throughout the school year. “It was hard to watch him shut down… and be plugging his ears and rocking. He was once so happy-go-lucky and light in spirit,” Bethany, Duncan’s mother, says. Given Duncan’s downward spiral, his home-based inten- sive case worker and board certified behavior analyst recom- mended CADD Partial Program, a highly specialized program for youth, ages five to nineteen, with autism and some devel- opmental disability. In addition to anxiety and panic attacks, Duncan, whom his mother called “quirky,” has problems reading people — not atypical for people with autism. Duncan’s fears are grounded in reality. He’s very close to his siblings, whose challenging medical burdens impact the entire family. Older brother Lee, fifteen, has Type I diabetes and is a transgender male. With genetic abnor- malities that cause early onset dementia, his sister Hanah faces an uncertain future. Only twenty-two, she’s had seven surgeries and two rounds of hospice care, and is frequently rushed by ambulance from their Massachusetts home for emergency medical interventions. All of the children, Bethany says, have post-traumatic stress disorder. “Bradley was willing to take us as is,” Bethany says. “I never felt judged there; I felt welcomed.” It wasn’t just CADD’s therapeutic environment that helped Duncan, but Bethany and Duncan’s father, Charles, also learned new behavioral approaches to help him cope. Kehinde Vaz, a CADD social worker, worked closely with Duncan and his parents. “There’s a large parent com- ponent to this program; we don’t just take the patient for six hours a day and then send him home,” says Vaz. “We provide parents with education, behavior management tools and strategies so they learn [what]… their kids are learning and apply them.” Not only does Duncan enjoy science, art, math and his- tory, he loves chapter books with cliff-hanger plots. He has also memorized the lyrics of the “Hamilton” soundtrack. Crafty and creative, Duncan built a working water gun using vacuum cleaner parts and a milk carton, as well as jewelry from a discarded Xbox. Before enrolling in the CADD Partial Program, Duncan felt challenged by his elementary school’s social and aca- demic expectations, says Vaz, yet he was unable to verbalize his feelings. Then, his anxiety would shoot through the roof and he’d shut down. At CADD, which Duncan attended every weekday from 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., Vaz says, “We taught him very basic social skills: How to make and keep friends, how to navi- gate interactions and conflicts among friends and more.” School assignments that Duncan worked on at CADD sometimes triggered his anxiety, but the staff taught him how to calm his body. “We refer to your body as your en- gine — red is too fast, green is just right and blue is too HEALTHY FAMILY l FALL/WINTER 2017     11