From Uncertainty to Triumph: Hope's Journey with Profound Autism

Hope Crichigno in her cap and gown When Hope Crichigno, a spirited teen from West Virginia, was diagnosed with profound autism as a toddler, her family's future seemed covered in uncertainty and emotional trials. Yet, her story is nothing short of miraculous, highlighting the powers of perseverance and effective therapy.

A Journey That Began in Fragility

Born as a fragile micro-preemie at 24 weeks, Hope spent the initial six months of her life in the neonatal intensive care unit. Her mother, Sarah Crichigno, recalls those early days filled with fear and multiple brushes with life-threatening situations. The doctors had forewarned them about potential severe health conditions, but their hearts held on to hope. By the time Hope reached her toddler years, she was diagnosed with autism, a news that, despite forewarning, still struck with profound disbelief. Her journey took a significant turn when she was identified with 'profound autism', a term describing a severe form of the disorder. The recommended seven to eight hours of daily intensive therapy seemed daunting, but necessity called for action.

The Turning Point: Meeting Dr. Susannah Poe

At a pivotal moment, the Crichigno family was acquainted with Dr. Susannah Poe, the Director of ABA Services at WVU Children’s Neurodevelopmental Center. It was serendipity, as Dr. Poe's clinic was newly opened and ready to assist Hope just when she needed it the most. The family made the significant decision to move closer to Morgantown, finding solace in the specialized care and guidance offered by the clinic. At five years old, Hope began her ABA therapy which laid the groundwork for essential life skills such as eating independently, using the restroom, and basic social interactions. The hard work and dedication shown by Hope and her family were poignant reminders of what collaboration and specialized care can achieve.

Discovering New Skills and Building Confidence

Through applied behavior analysis (ABA) therapy, Hope found joy and motivation in learning new skills. Her sessions were filled with activities that fascinated her, ranging from playing with rubber ducks to enjoying bubble time, which reinforced positive behaviors and habits. At the age of eight, Hope began attending school part-time. This transition was initially jarring due to the new stimuli and environment, but the love and support from her teachers made it manageable. Her elementary school teacher, in particular, played an instrumental role in her adaptation and growth, tailoring her studies to meet her unique needs.

Celebrating Milestones

Fast forward to May, Hope donned her cap and gown, ready to graduate from University High School in Morgantown. This milestone was a tapestry of emotions for her family, especially her mother, Sarah. Watching Hope walk across the stage, the culmination of years of hard work, brought tears of joy and pride. The beauty of Hope's story extends beyond academic achievements. It lies in the relationships she built and the personal growth she underwent. Dr. Poe and Haley Johnson, a board-certified behavior analyst, stood as pillars in her journey, celebrating every small Winco, from attending sleepovers to significant events like graduations and weddings.

The Unyielding Importance of ABA Therapy

ABA therapy, despite its controversies, stands as an evidence-based approach that has transformed lives like Hope's. Encouraging positive behaviors and reducing negative ones form its cornerstone. Both Poe and Johnson echo the sentiment that when done correctly and ethically, ABA therapy yields wonderful outcomes, offering several individuals the chance at a better quality of life. Regrettably, such specialized services are hard to come by in West Virginia, with a staggering 41 out of 50 counties lacking clinic-based ABA services. Sarah emphasizes the urgent need for more facilities to cater to growing individuals with profound autism, ensuring they lead meaningful lives.

Moving Forward with Hope and Determination

Hope's journey from a fragile micro-preemie to a proud high school graduate is a beacon of inspiration. Her story reflects the collective efforts of a supportive family, dedicated therapists, and a resilient spirit. As she continues to learn and grow, her story remains a powerful reminder of what's possible with love, support, and effective therapy.

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