We arrived at the Sensory Learning Center in Encinitas, California in the afternoon after a long drive down from Los Angeles. The center has only been open for two weeks, but they seem to have thing really together. It is a nice peaceful atmosphere and the staff has this really professional and laid back demeanor. It is run by a married couple, both optometrists, Chris Davis and Susan Daniel. They have a 6 year old autistic son who went through the program in Boulder and they were apparently so pleased with the results that they decided to open one in California.
I was a few minutes late and completely ruffled as I had both boys in tow. When we came it, Dr. Davis and several of the staff members were just hanging out in the lobby waiting for us. They seem to have this, “whatever makes things easy for you” attitude that really takes the stress off. These people clearly know what it is like to have an autistic child and have made a wonderful atmosphere for families like ours.
A staff member played with 3.5 year old Webster in the waiting/playroom while I went in with Chandler. They tried to do some evaluations of his hearing/attention, but he was not having it, so we went straight to the sample session. We got him on the table and he was a little uncomfortable. Once it started moving, he was quiet and still, on his belly and elbows, but when we tried to roll him on his back, he started getting upset. We turned down the lights and tried to get him to put the headphones on and then he really went nuts. He really freaked out and was crying as if in complete distress. It really got to me. All I could think was that it must be like a horrible nightmare. Being in a pitch black room with arms coming out of the darkness to hold you down while a light (even a soft magenta light) shines in your eyes all the while you have no idea what is going on.
But I was determined not to loose it and to try to get him to go the whole 30 minutes. He continued to freak for several minutes until Dr. Daniel had the idea to bring his car seat in to see if he would feel a little safer in it. When we put him in it, he calmed down a lot. He continued to cry through the first half of the trial session, but it was not as bad as it had been. By the second half, he had calmed down and started drinking out of his sippy cup.
The staff stayed really calm the whole time though. Did I mention that I think the staff is great?