BOWMANVILLE, ON — When Colton Sparkes was 18-months old he lost his words. They came back but in 2013, at three-years of age. When he lost them a second time he was sent for a hearing assessment. That is when the Bowmanville boy first had contact with Grandview Children’s Centre.
Since then Colton, 7, has been diagnosed with severe autism. He also has ADHD, sensory processing disorder, anxiety, and childhood apraxia of speech.
“It’s almost like he forgets how to position his mouth, tongue and lips to form words,” Colton’s mom, Barbara Sparkes said.
Colton has been a regular client of Grandview for the past four years. Both he and his parents have participated in many of the centre’s programs. Barbara says she immediately felt at home the first time she entered the building and saw other families in the waiting area.
“It actually felt like we fit in somewhere,” said Barbara. “It was almost like a relief, it was wonderful.”
Barbara and her husband Eric attended ‘More than Words’ workshops, which were part of the Durham Preschool Speech and Language program. These workshops helped them understand how far behind their son was and where he should be.
“Colton is our first and only, so we were in denial for a long time,” Barbara said.
Grandview has been helping the Sparkes family every step of Colton’s journey through pre-school, where he attended their ‘Pre-school’ play-date program, to the Four Winds Montessori School, Bowmanville, where he hopes to stay until he graduates high school.
Barbara described how Grandview therapists came to the school through the Preschool Outreach Program to consult with the staff on Colton’s sensory issues and provide books to educate the teachers about autism.
Barbara said it was Grandview that set Colton up with a communication system called PECS (Picture Exchange Communications System). This is a basic form of communication where pictures are exchanged to indicate the child’s needs.
“This was the first time he communicated with us through PECS – in two weeks,” Barbara said. “He had PECS books everywhere, we were beside ourselves.”
Colton did so well on the PECS program he now uses an electronic program called LAMP (Language Acquisition through Motor Planning). This system is designed to help Colton express himself independently through a speech generating iPad, provided by Holland Bloorview in Toronto, with the help of the Grandview team.
Barbara said Grandview not only taught them this communication system, the staff also taught them about LAMP and helped them gather data so Colton could graduate to this next, game-changing, step.
“This is the next step,” said Barbara who said her son carries the iPad with him everywhere. “Without them [Grandview] we wouldn’t be this far, that’s for sure.”
CLARINGTON — Barbara Sparkes with her son Colton,6, who is on the autism spectrum. Colton uses an iPad to communicate. April 10, 2017 – Sabrina Byrnes / Metroland
Grandview has also been an emotional support for the Sparkes family. Barbara joined the Grandview Parents Facebook Group and befriended another mother who has a daughter on the autism spectrum. The two friends and their children go out on visits to the Oshawa zoo and spend play-dates together. They have even participated in the RUN AJAX event for the past three years and raised at least $1,000 per run.
Barbara now also gives back through the Grandview Facebook page.
“I try to help other people along by either letting them know about speech therapy, different speech devices, just to get the education out there,” Barbara said. “Because we’re our children’s caseworkers, we have to advocate for our kids.”
Barbara said her only frustration with the whole Grandview experience was the waiting list, which presently stands at 3,000 children waiting for service. She said the current building in Oshawa was built to service 400 clients, but is now too small for their needs.
“They converted a janitor’s closet into a therapy room, they do therapies in the halls,” Barbara said.
Despite the wait list, Barbara wants to bring awareness to the services Grandview has to offer the community,
“We have to make sure people are aware of Grandview and of the wonderful things they can do,” Barbara said.