Isaac’s mother explains how finding the right motivation and strategies to help Isaac learn to talk made all the difference for him and their family.

Isaac Chandler didn’t say his first word, he spelled it, “o-o-o-p-s,” he said to his mother one day when he was 4 years old. His mother, Keely Wright, remembers, “He hadn’t even said ‘mama’ yet. He was just not talking, sometimes he would babble, but nothing clear. Then I was shocked to find out that not only could he talk, but that he could spell.” 

This happened shortly after Isaac was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Keely’s friend had suggested Isaac be screened for developmental delays. The thought of Isaac having a disorder like autism wasn’t something Keely had worried about. Isaac made great eye contact; he was happy, adaptable and didn’t have any behavior issues. Sure, Isaac wasn’t speaking, but he was communicating. If wanted he juice, for example, he would take his mother’s hand and direct her to the juice. 

But her friend’s advice stuck with her, and Keely felt she should get Isaac tested, which she did at their local elementary school. Although the school couldn’t make a formal diagnosis, the provider told her Isaac’s symptoms presented as autism. 

“I remember the diagnosis made me scared that I couldn’t protect him. If we were in public it was hard for me to keep him by my side,” Keely recalls. 
"I couldn’t trust that he wouldn’t bolt into traffic just to get a better look at a stop sign. I was worried an autism diagnosis meant I wouldn’t be able to teach him to be safe."

Later testing by a pediatric psychiatrist confirmed that Isaac was on the autism spectrum. That doctor recommended the family get Isaac into Marcus Autism Center as soon as possible. In the meantime, Isaac’s family, including Keely and his father, Nathan Chandler, and even his older sister, Ava, went to trainings at the center.

“In parent training at Marcus Autism Center they taught met ways to connect with Isaac. If he was playing with blocks, I needed to sit next to him and play with blocks too,” says Keely. “I had to let him lead in playing. For me that meant resisting the urge to ask him questions or show him how to play. I did what he did. When I spoke it was only to give him specific praise or to copy the sounds he made.”

A few months later, Isaac was accepted into the center’s Language and Learning Program, and he quickly progressed. “Their techniques worked so quickly,” says Keely. 
"I couldn’t believe it. Once Isaac and I connected, he was willing to do what I needed him to do. He listened to me; it completely changed our lives. And that was just the beginning."
Isaac was motivated by praise, and he desperately wanted to learn to talk. He would study people’s mouths to try figure out how words were formed. Another motivator for Isaac was cheering on other kids in the program. He was a big encourager and found just as much joy rooting classmates on as receiving praise himself. 

Even though the family drove an hour to and from the center in rush hour traffic, neither Keely nor Isaac minded. “He would be excited to get in the car and go,” says Keely. “And everything I learned from Marcus Autism Center, I still use with my 1 year old. It’s also stuff that works for my gifted 10 year old. All kids do better when you can find what motivates them and then encourage them.”

Today, Isaac is a 9-year-old third grader in a general education class, and although he’s getting certain supports, he’s thriving. He loves going to school, and he’s still an excellent speller. He’s constantly called on by his classmates to spell words. He’s a protective older brother, and despite hating shots, he asked his mom if he could get his baby sister’s shots for her. “That’s Isaac,” says Keely. “He’s the sweetest child and genuinely loves to help other people. He doesn’t know how rare and special his kindness is.”