Anjali and Vikrant Kulkarni live with their young son Arnav in Germantown, Maryland. Arnav is an energetic 5-year boy with Autism Spectrum Disorder and Anjali works hard to provide him with the best therapy opportunities possible.
Originally from Mumbai, India Vikrant was sent to the United States for a work project in December 2011. His wife, Anjali, followed him shortly after. During their first few months in the United States, being separated from their family in India was emotionally difficult. However, Anjali and Vikrant found that life was easier and more accessible in the US. Their excitement grew as the new project offered more income for their young family. In January 2013, they welcomed their son Arnav and in that moment life changed drastically.
Although the pregnancy had gone very smoothly, Arnav needed to be in the NICU for 9 days. He had difficulty latching for breastfeeding due to the nasal and oral tubes placed during his time in the hospital. This is when his challenges with eating began. After getting help from a lactation specialist, Arnav could nurse, but was not able to be weaned for 3 and a half years.
While he was a happy child, at 8 months old he never called his parents “mamma” and “daddy”, played with foods or made messes. Arnav also did not respond to his name. His parents placed him in his first therapy session at 18 months old in Washtenaw County, Michigan. They did not see any improvement so they decided to move the Montgomery County of Maryland with tremendous help from Vikrant’s work. Arnav began 40 hours of ABA therapy at home through the Infants and Toddlers program when he was 30 months old. During that initial month Anjali and Vikrant saw immediate changes. Arnav started responding to his name, calling his parent’s “mom” and “dad”, followed instructions. And the progress didn’t stop there.
At 3 years old Arnav was placed in a Comprehensive Autism Preschool Program (CAPP), which he attended 6 hours per day, 5 days per week. Anjali says he showed great progress with the CAPP because it utilized ABA. After 1 year he graduated and moved to a less restrictive Preschool Education Program (PEP). However, the PEP does not offer ABA to facilitate his social skills and communication, which Anjali says are Arnav’s weaker skills.
Currently, Arnav needs frequent social support and guidance with his communication skills. He is verbal and echolalic, which means he repeats phrases spoken by other people. This is a common symptom of autism and seen as a positive sign for future language growth, according to Gary Heffner in his article on Echolalia. He is also improving his social skills through music therapy, which Anjali says has been extremely effective and enjoyable.
Their dream scenario would be to see Arnav socialize with peers his age and for him to clearly communicate his thoughts. These skills are currently being worked on at his PEP school. His speech and ABA therapists as well as his PEP school are working with Arnav daily on chewing his food and trying finger foods.
Follow Arnav’s story by watching the family’s YouTube channel, Little Wonders-n-US. Subscribe to the channel to see the life of a high function, verbal, extremely lovable child.
Heffner, G. J. (n.d.). ECHOLALIA – REPETITIVE SPEECH. Retrieved January 28, 2018, from http://www.autism-help.org/communication-echolalia-autism.htm.