Testimonial: "The Zelazo program gave my son a future!"


by B.D.M

December 5, 1998


As the parent of a young boy who has been through the Zelazo program, I was recently asked what the program meant to me. The answer is simple.

The Zelazo program gave my son a future!

When K was born he was the most perfect adorable beautiful boy, and when asked to describe him, I always simply said perfect. K had sat up at 4 months and was crawling by seven months. He took his first step at nine months and was completely walking on his own at 9 -1/2 months. It was shortly around the age of 9 months, that I noticed that maybe everything wasn't so perfect, however. While other children had begun at least to babble, K just hummed. He made no attempt to mimic the usual baby sounds. I was concerned and spoke several times with our family physician, but was always told just give him time. In as much as this was what I wanted to hear, I felt comforted and didn't overly concern myself with it.

Just after K's first birthday, when I tried to have him sit on his motorcycle and play on his rocking horse, I noticed that he was very fearful of sitting on things that moved. At the same time, I began to take a closer look at his different reactions to his surroundings. While other children demanded attention, he was happy just wandering around. He didn't seem interested, nor did he know how to play. When I played with him and the toy fell, he didn't look for it. When he fell down, he didn't cry. When he did cry, he didn't like to be comforted, instead pushing me away with all his strength. I felt all of these things were strange but I thought that perhaps he had just inherited my independent spirit. My main concern, although was the fact that he didn't talk.

By the time K was 18 months old, my concerns regarding his language really began to deepen. I was still being told that I shouldn't worry, because it wasn't unheard of for slow talkers to begin speaking at 2 or 2-1/2 and they usually caught up very quickly. My concerns were heightened when I began to realize that he didn't react to or understand language. This was difficult to explain in a way that anyone seemed to understand, so I allowed myself to be convinced that it would come and he was just a late bloomer. Besides, he was always so happy and seemed so bright so how could there be anything seriously wrong with him.

Sometime between this time and K's second birthday, I saw a movie about a child with autism. I told myself that K didn't have autism because he wasn't banging his head against the wall like the child in the film and he wasn't so totally uncontrollable that he had to be restrained. I did have nagging doubts though, because some of the traits I had seen in the little boy in the film were similar to those I had observed in K. I didn't dare tell anybody about my thoughts for fear they would think I was crazy.

At K's 2 year old check-up I was more persistent with the doctor and requested a referral to a speech therapist, because I felt his main problem was still language. He explained that these initial assessments were not usually done until the age of 3, but that given my continued concern, he would consider a referral at 2-1/2 if there was no improvement by then. This only semi-placated me, because I knew there was a 6 to 9 month wait for an appointment at the hospital, and I felt that that would be too late, I decided to hedge my bet and I called the Montreal Children's Hospital and told them I had a referral from my doctor and requested an appointment. They gave me an appointment 7 months from that date, so I knew that I would have my referral by then, if I needed it, and that I would cancel the appointment if I didn't need it. In either case, my son would be evaluated at 2 1/2 rather than 3 yrs old.

Over the next few months my concerns heightened, and I felt that I should take matters further. I called my childhood pediatrician who was now retired and described K to him. He felt an immediate assessment by a psychologist at MCH was in order to rule out autism. Once again that word I didn't want to hear .............

I called the Department of Psychology and explained my dilemma. They told me about Dr. Zelazo's research and his program for children between 30 to 36 months old. K was 28 months old at the time, so I just kept calling and getting all the necessary referrals in case a spot became available for my son when he was 30 months old. We were very lucky, a space became available and we met a member of Dr. Zelazo's team who began the evaluation process. The tests were administered by Dr. Zelazo's team, and consisted of filming K's and my interactions, K's compliance with requests, which were negligible, and K's physiological responses to a set of viewed patterned movements done in the style of a puppet show while sitting in front on my lap. The results indicated that K was developmentally 13 or 14 months old and that his language skills were that of a 7 month old child. I was devastated! While no prognosis was given me at the time, it was generally agreed that K would benefit from Dr. Zelazo's treatment, and I felt privileged to enter the program.

Now the hard work began. I was told that K presented with oppositional behavior, and this behavior stood in the way of his being able to learn, so first we had to modify his behavior so that he would be open to learning and thereby have the ability to further his development. This sounded reasonable to me and it gave me hope that there was a future for my son. I agreed to follow all the instructions given me when working with K and I also agreed not to have K undergo any other interventions during a 6-month period, so that the results could be quantified. We worked daily at our sessions and visited weekly to the hospital for further instructions and to show our progress. During each visit I did a session with K to demonstrate not only any progress K was making but also to show how I was working with my son and my reactions to his compliance or noncompliance whichever was the case. It is difficult to always feel you are being tested but it was important to my son so I did it. Each week I was instructed how to go further. Finally after six months I began to see some compliance, some eye contact and some success. It took months and months for K to look at me, more months again for him to clap his hands, and even more time to point his finger to show me something. It was very difficult and stressful work, but it was well worth it. After 10 months of working like this, K began saying the odd sound and eventually the odd word and very soon he realized that speaking with words had its rewards. As luck would have it, a place opened in Dr. Zelazo's toddler behavior group and K was admitted to this program at this same time. K spent a year going two full mornings a week to the program with 5 other children that had also began the home program around the same time as K, and the results were marvelous. This more intense program coupled with very serious work at home proved to be the answer for us. K began using words to make his requests known and eventually started to speak in short sentences.

After spending a year in Dr. Zelazo's program K graduated. He still had a year before he was to enter kindergarten so I registered him in a nursery school program with "regular" kids so he could practice his new-found language skills and begin to learn some social skills. I was careful to interview the teacher and the school and I made them understand that they had to use what I called the "Zelazo" method when dealing with K, so that his training was consistent. I explained to them that they had to insist on and reward compliant behavior, eye contact and use of language. I met with them weekly to keep up with K's progress at school and to answer their questions on how they should deal with certain situations when they came up. The year in nursery school really helped K use his language and practice his social skills and this was a very successful time for K. He would never have been accepted, nor would he ever have been able to participate if Dr. Zelazo's program had not given him the tools he needed.

What a gift that was!

While K would not have made the progress he did without having participated in Dr. Zelazo's program, I feel it is important to make it very clear that this method is only as good a tool as you make it. While it is true that at the beginning only 12-minute sessions are required, it doesn't end there. It has been my experience that the most successful children have been the ones whose parents have allowed Dr. Zelazo's methods to pervade their lives and this is what I did. Right from the start, K was constantly being stimulated. I never let him just sit and hum, I never allowed any flicking, etc. I made a point of keeping him busy, and showing him new things, even before he was able to appreciate them. I never let any unacceptable behaviors pass by without correction, and I continually rewarded him for the smallest of acceptable behaviors. When I spoke to K, I always insisted that he look at me and I rewarded him with a "good looking K", as well as a treat. Every moment that I had with him was used in a positive manner. Any unacceptable behaviors were punished immediately by removing my attention. While I didn't deliberately ever put him in a situation which was upsetting or disturbing to him, I did insist on a certain behavior at all times......yes, even when I was tired! It's extremely hard work, and it's even harder if you have opposition from a spouse or grandparent, etc., but it is possible. You cannot let anything stand in your way of getting positive results, because the rewards are endless.

There are a lot of things that are difficult to control but you must do your best to see that everyone who surrounds your child insists on certain behaviors and not deviate. For example, I am a single mom, who works full time, so I couldn't be around all day. K's grandmother is his caregiver when I am working. At first I had no support from her with regard to Dr. Zelazo's method. She thought it cruel not to give in to him when he was having a tantrum. Her way to handle the situation was to pick him up and try to console him. It didn't work, it just prolonged the situation and he didn't learn anything. I, on the other hand learned to leave the room and not give these behaviors any attention. He would kick the door, scream and yell, etc. When I told Dr. Zelazo that I found this very difficult to handle, he told me that no one ever died by kicking the door, and no one ever died by hearing it being done, and he was very right! K learned really quickly that this behavior didn't get the desired results with me and it ended as soon as it began. It was also important to make K ask for everything first using sounds and then language as he progressed. Nana had to learn and agree that she would follow my instructions or unfortunately, I would have to have someone else take care of him. It was a difficult time for us but once Grandma began to see results she became one of the best advocates of using Dr. Zelazo's methods. I also carefully screened and trained his teachers and his baby sitter. K was never left with anyone unless I was sure they wouldn't undermine his training. This is very important.

Additionally, I always made sure to keep life interesting for K, and I used anything I could think of as tools to teach him using what I had learned from Dr. Zelazo. Pictures and books never interested K, so they were little help in getting or keeping his attention. He needed more concrete stimulation (sight, sound, touch). For example, when he picked up a toy animal, I realized there might be an interest there so we then visited every zoo and pet store, and SPCA, etc. we could find. This wasn't just a sightseeing trip for K. I used it to make him use language. If he wanted to go see the lion he had to say the word, then tell me what color a lion was, etc, etc. If he refused, we went home, if he cooperated we continued on to the next animal. Many trips were very short, but soon K learned that compliance and language were valuable tools for him. When K showed an interest in flowers, we visited every nursery, garden shop, florist and botanical gardens, etc and did the same thing. When K started to want to play with other kids, I invited another child along with us for these little jaunts. Now the trips became tools for socialization and sharing as well as language. So you see, the methods I was by taught by Dr. Zelazo and his associates were used in each aspect of our lives and still are.

K is now almost 8 yrs old. He enjoys life to the fullest. His language skills have improved to where he is at age level in many aspects. He still has trouble with abstract concepts but he is improving daily. He is fully integrated in the public school system in a 50/50 French immersion grade two program. He has the services of a full time integration aide who helps him cope with difficult situations, and he is thriving. He has learned to read, write, spell, add and subtract and he is developing a good size bank of French vocabulary. He also has learned to tell time to the quarter hour and understands the concept of time. He remembers what he did last Tuesday, if it was something fun, and he knows what he will be doing next Sunday. He is learning to socialize and has a circle of friends who are a great joy to him. The girls are fighting over who is his girlfriend, and the boys love to include him in their shenanigans. He is also beginning to be interested in team sports and loves to kick a soccer ball around the field with the guys. Not only that, he has also learned how to pretend and play with his toys appropriately. What a joy it is to watch him with his car collection, and his mechanics tools! Additionally, he enjoys swimming and swims better than most children his age and he is just this year learning to ice skate, because he wants to play hockey some day.

K still has some fears and some anxieties and every day is still a challenge, but every day is also a joy. Every day in some way I use the tools that Dr. Zelazo has taught me. As you can see there is hope.......there is help........there is a future. For us it was Dr. Zelazo's program!