Daniel and Molly Stetson entered the world on the same day six years ago. As twins, they share many things – the same eye and hair color, the same rambunctious giggle. But there is one thing they do not share. Daniel has autism. Molly does not.
“With a side-by-side sister Molly developing typically and tough to keep up with, we knew Daniel would have a different life,” said the twins’ mother, Tina Stetson.
When the twins turned 3 years old, their parents enrolled them at United Services for Children in St. Peters. The nonprofit organization operates two pediatric therapy and developmental learning centers in St. Charles County, including one in Dardenne Prairie.
Stetson said she was worried about leaving Daniel with strangers all day. “He can’t talk,” she said. “What if he’s thirsty or scared or sad?”
Stetson said she wanted Daniel to learn to make choices and communicate, as well as being safe and happy. At the time, her goals seemed “unreachable,” she said.
Three years later, the “unreachable” had been achieved.
Thanks to the teachers and therapists at United Services for Children, Daniel can communicate through pictures, pointing to images of things he wants, such as a glass of juice. He is developing his own kind of sign language to help express himself. He is looking people in the eye and responding when he hears his name. His balance, posture and physical condition have improved.
“I smile every time he accomplishes a new task,” Stetson said. “We celebrate as if Publishers Clearinghouse had arrived with a check.”
Autism will be the focus of an information fair that United Services for Children is organizing for April, National Autism Awareness Month.
“Exploring the Spectrum: Interventions, Diagnosis and Best Practices for Children with Autism” will run 8:30 a.m.-1 p.m., April 6, at the Spencer Road Library Community Commons in St. Peters.
The event will feature guest speakers from Washington University, Cardinal Glennon and Mercy health systems. There will be breakout sessions with autism experts and information booths from autism organizations like Autism Speaks and MO-FEAT. The event is free to the public. No pre-registration is required.
To find out more about the Exploring the Spectrum autism information fair, download the flyer here.
But United Services is not just for children with disabilities. Stetson said Molly, a typically developing child, received a first-rate preschool education to prepare her for Kindergarten.
“Our family, by necessity, had been so focused on Daniel’s needs at home that Molly had been missing some important experiences,” Stetson said. “The teachers at United Services filled in those gaps, enriching Molly developmentally and intellectually.”
The organization gave her children more than preschool and therapy, Stetson said. “United Services gives hope to the parents. For this, I’m forever grateful to the establishment and the excellent staff that makes it work.”
United Services for Children uses a classroom model based on “inclusion.” Children with disabilities and typically developing children learn from each other and play together in an inclusive classroom environment. Children with disabilities learn to model their typically developing peers. The typically developing children see their classmates not as “kids with disabilities,” but simply as friends.
United Services was founded in 1975 to educate and support preschool-age children. The nonprofit organization is accredited through the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) to provide educational programs to children of all abilities. During the past 37 years, United Services has provided early intervention programs to thousands of children. Its two centers combined currently enroll 660 children.
United Services’ licensed therapists provide occupational, physical and speech therapy, plus help with feeding and social skills development. Its programs include early intervention services, early childhood education, extended care, and family support programs for siblings and parents.
United Services also offers outpatient pediatric therapy, allowing families to privately access individual and group therapy programs.
To find out more about United Services for Children, call 636-926-2700 or visit www.unitedservicesforchildren.org.