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Moving from tantrums to words to hug

Therapy helps Bismarck boy develop
communication, social skills
The youngest of three children, Nathan Dressler didn’t seem to develop the same as his siblings. At almost 2 years old, his speech was limited, and he started walking late. His mom, EmaLee Dressler of Bismarck, thought it was because his siblings were talking for him and fetching things he wanted.

“They knew what he wanted, even if he hadn’t said anything,” she said of Nathan’s siblings, Gabriel, now 7, and Alexis, now 9.

But it was more than that. Nathan didn’t want to socialize with other kids, he couldn’t dress himself, he isolated himself from people and everything resulted in a fight, EmaLee said.

EmaLee and her husband, Jason, heard about Sanford Health’s free pediatric therapy screening in March that year and decided to attend.

  Nathan Dressler overcomes ant-social behaviors with help from Medcenter One therapists
Sanford Health therapists helped Nathan Dressler overcome anti-social behaviors such as avoiding eye contact and human touch.
Therapists determined that Nathan, 23 months old at the time, needed further evaluation, and suspected that he may have a condition on the autism spectrum. Autism spectrum disorders affect development of the brain in the areas of social interaction, communication skills and cognitive function.

Nicole Ford
Nicole Ford
Occupational therapy

Tracy Lockrem, Speech language pathologistTracey Lockrem
Speech therapy

  Tracey Lockrem, pediatric speech therapist, was first to meet with Nathan.

“When Nathan first came in, he had a vocabulary of just seven words. He didn’t understand the value of communication,” Lockrem said. “Children on the autism spectrum often find their world much more exciting than ours. We have to teach them to realize that they live in our world, too.”

After a few sessions, Lockrem recommended an occupational therapy evaluation. Nicole Ford, a pediatric occupational therapist at Sanford Health, said when she first started working with Nathan, he wouldn’t make eye contact or say hello, and he didn’t want to be touched.

“His behavior was hindering his ability to play and explore,” Ford said.

One of Nathan’s biggest challenges was transitioning. Entering any new environment, even moving from the waiting room to the therapy room, was hard for him. If he was uncomfortable, he had a tantrum.

After a few sessions, his tantrums were under control. Since his initial evaluation, Nathan has continued therapy with Ford and Lockrem up to three times a week, working on transitions, communication and social skills.

“Nathan’s parents followed through with all of our suggestions, which was a huge key to his success,” Ford said.

Nathan, now age 5, is in kindergarten. He enjoys the structure and routine school provides, has improved his social skills and has a phenomenal memory. In January, he was assigned to read a four-page book out loud to his family.

“There were two sentences on each page, and he sounded out each word and read it to us,” Jason said. “It was amazing.”

The Dresslers say they didn’t know what to expect from the free screening, but that it has been an unbelievable experience. “The free screening was a lifesaver for us when we didn’t know where to go,” EmaLee said.

After he had met all his goals, Ford discharged Nathan from occupational therapy in October 2010; Lockrem discharged him from speech therapy in December.

At his last occupational therapy session, Nathan—the boy who previously didn’t want to be touched and hid under the table at therapy sessions— gave Ford a big hug.

“Nathan’s progress is unbelievable, and he loved Nicole and Tracey,” Jason said. EmaLee added, “We were very lucky and blessed to have them be a part of Nathan’s life.”

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