Autism Awareness Month 2019: Family Spotlights

April 19, 2019

Each April, Autism Speaks honors and recognizes World Autism Awareness Month with events and educational activities that strive to increase understanding and acceptance of autism worldwide. At MGA, we’re celebrating the spirit and achievement of our patients with advice and insight from their moms and MGA Homecare teams. Meet three of our amazing kiddos: Hunter, Kailee and Brian.

Meet Hunter Shaffer, construction connoisseur and animal whisperer.

Since the age of three, Hunter has had two great loves – construction and animals. When he’s not playing in the sandbox with his miniature excavator, he’s cruising around the backyard with his service dog Dodger, waving hello to other family pets. Along with Dodger, a variety of pets ranging from cats and dogs to fish, ducks and even a hermit crab reside in the Shaffer home.

“He loves hanging out with the animals,” said Hunter’s mom, Dana. “He is always helping collect the duck eggs and is excited to decorate some for Easter this year.”

Hunter tinkers with anything he can get his hands on to learn how things fit together and operate.

“As much as he enjoys building with his construction toys, he’s also great at deconstructing to figure out how toys operate and are put back together,” said Hunter’s speech therapist, Laura Hill. “He’s a natural problem solver and inventor.”

Hunter has already accomplished so much in just 12 short years and we at MGA Homecare are excited to see him accomplish even more as he continues to learn.

“We feel it’s important to recognize and celebrate each step forward, no matter how big or small,” said Dana. “It thrills us to see him enjoying life and constantly playing with a big smile.”

While it’s important to recognize the successes of your little ones, Dana wants to remind other parents to focus on themselves as well.

“As a parent, it’s important to take care of yourself in addition to the care you provide your children,” she said. “I want to encourage parents to care for their own health just as much as they strive for the health of their kids.”

Meet Kailee Smith, Sesame Street enthusiast and future rockstar.

Kailee is a bright and beautiful seven-year-old from South Carolina. Her family moved to Colorado Springs back in 2014 and shortly after, Kailee’s mother became her Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) through MGA Homecare.

“Becoming a CNA was something I never thought I was capable of,” said Kailee’s mother, Milissa. “But being able to care for Kailee allows me to be part of each accomplishment. We are teaching each other new things every day and growing together.”

We’re thrilled the Smith family has allowed MGA to be a part of Milissa and Kailee’s journey for the past five years. Kailee’s grown into a social butterfly and her energetic spirit is immediately apparent when you meet her.

“Kailee has a contagious smile that brightens any room,” said Cherie Bennett, RN, BSN, Kailee’s Clinical Manager. “Her bubbly personality shines bright through music. She lights up when we sing and dance together.”

Music is a major part of Kailee’s life and her love for all things musical has been amplified since starting guitar lessons six months ago.

“Kailee loves to listen to and learn to play all types of music,” said Milissa. “Everything from blues and rock to classic Sesame Street jams!”

This April, Kailee is celebrating something big: 14 months seizure free!

“MGA Homecare has been such a blessing to us,” said Milissa. “Our Homecare team identifies with and supports our biggest life philosophy – never give up. We’ve found more than care at MGA, we’ve found a community, and that’s one of the best resources to have as a mother.”

Meet Brian Neff, disco ball champ and social butterfly.

Brian is an 11-year-old who sure knows how to have fun. Waking up bright and early at 6 a.m. Brian begins each day with a disco party. After lighting up his bedroom with his disco ball, he’ll listen and dance to his favorite songs from The Fresh Beat Band or Yo Gabba Gabba! Brian’s passion for music doesn’t stop at listening, he’s a big fan of making his own songs on his cat themed piano.

“Brian absolutely loves music,” said his PDN Case Manager, AnaLisa Holt, RN, BSN. “He is great at entertaining others and would jam out all day if he could.”

The party continues throughout the day as Brian and his mom, Andrea, explore Colorado Springs together.

“It’s important to get him out of the house and into different environments where he can play and learn,” said Andrea. “His favorite place is Chuck E. Cheese for SpongeBob bowling.”

After becoming Brian’s CNA through MGA Homecare, Andrea is thankful for the opportunity to watch him grow and celebrate his daily victories.

“Brian’s most recent accomplishment is an improvement in his communication skills,” said Andrea. “He is communicating more and more, both through his augmentative and alternative communication device, and vocal approximations, which is a great achievement.”

As a mother and CNA, Andrea understands the importance of supporting others and is quick to provide insight to families and friends. Her biggest piece of advice to other parents is to listen to clinicians and take their advice to heart.

“You have far more time with your child than any service provider,” said Andrea. “Take their wisdom and run with it.”

Way to go, Hunter, Kailee and Brian and all of our amazing kiddos who are part of the autism community! To learn more about Autism Awareness Month, head to AutismSpeaks.org or check out their FAQ page.