Laurel Heights Hospital
The Discovery Program
Atlanta, GA

Let me start by saying Laurel Heights has been a “God Send” for our family. My son Parker is nonverbal and has severe behavioral issues associated with autism and bipolar disorder that affect his ability to live in our home. Over the years, we spent thousands and thousands of dollars trying numerous interventions ranging from alternative treatments to standard OT, sensory integration programming and SLP services, in the process exhausting our entire savings, assets and our marriage.

At the age of 10 in June of 2008, Parker’s behaviors were dangerous and destructive, escalating with no end in sight. As a single parent with another child in the home I was concerned for his and our own safety. Regardless of all the modifications to our home, I could no longer keep us all safe. Our local school system was in agreement and assisted in facilitating the change in placement on his IEP. They even went and toured the facility as well. We looked at other facilities and found Laurel Heights was the only residential program providing ABA support for the control of behaviors. I tell you all of this to say this was the most difficult decision that I have ever had to make in my entire life. The thought of trusting Parker’s care to someone else after 10 years of protecting and advocating for him was excruciating. I had to come to the realization that I was doing this “for” Parker not “to” him. Amy Wooley, Ken Fleishman, Coby Lund, Rebekka Vatter and staff have been so supportive and reassuring through many of my fears and tears.

Parker has always needed one-on-one constant supervision or he will engage in inappropriate behaviors with a wide range of results. Amy Wooley and her staff provide Parker the one-on-one behavioral support using ABA techniques in and out of the classroom. Amy is my “life line” to Parker helping me process and make educated choices about his care and education. I recall an excited telephone call in the middle of the day from Amy with so much noise in the background I could not hear her. I immediately thought something was wrong and panic went through me. However, the noise was cheering and celebration as Parker had appropriately used the toilet! She has also been there to console me when it was not such a great day regarding behavior and help reformulate the plan of action. Even “Ms. Gloria” (Laurel Heights CEO Gloria Choo) has taken Parker into her heart and went out to buy him special popsicles on her lunch hour when he had a sore throat. Dr. Lund provided the behavioral data collection to help lead us in the right direction for Parker. He helps us create an individual plan tailored to Parker’s needs. Parker attends school year round on the campus of Laurel Heights and is provided appropriate activities to continue to build his skill acquisition and control his behaviors. Among the many things we are working on, he is learning to take care of his personal needs and be a more effective communicator. They are very caring and compassionate for his needs and respect him. Even the administrative staff and cafeteria staff know Parker (he always gets “seconds”).

Parker has always been a challenge to find any medications that would help. We finally had given up when he was at home because every one we tried made his aggression or anxiety worse. His last psychiatrist stated that a placement was needed as he could not in good faith prescribe another trial of medication without facility-based supervision given his previous responses. Dr. Fleishman observed and monitored Parker for about two months before trying any medications so he could get to know him. He has always shown the utmost courtesy and compassion for Parker’s needs including me on all medication considerations. Dr. Fleishman truly respects Parker and our family and wants the best for him. He introduces one medication to see if it works and monitors the effects. Parker has never been over-medicated. He is now sleeping through the night for the most part. He continues to be a challenge with his cycling regarding medication but we continue to try medication trials to see what will benefit Parker the most with the least side effects. The great part is that we now have data to support what works and what does not with medications. Add to that a caring 24-hour nursing staff.

Since Parker’s placement, he is doing well, gaining new skills and learning to control his behaviors. He is a work in progress but is happy, healthy, comfortable and safe. He enjoys a variety of outings including swimming on campus, Piedmont Park, Chick-Fil-A, Monkey Joes, Fernbank, etc. We visit every couple of weeks and talk to him on the telephone 2-3 times per week, along with staff several times a week. I respect the staff a great deal and know the challenges they face each shift especially with Parker!

Though it was the hardest decision I have ever made it was the best decision as well. He is getting the care that I could not provide in my home. Our school system remains supportive and involved in his education and care.

Rebekka Vatter has been our family therapist provided by Laurel Heights and has facilitated a healing and hopefulness about our future that we did not have before. She is helping us have realistic expectations and refine the definitions of success in life and with Parker, reconciling our emotions. I am a work in progress as well! We are hopeful that he can learn the skills needed to move to a group home environment with less supervision as he gets older to live a quality engaging life. Laurel Heights staff and providers have become an extension of our family. When they say “It Takes a Village”, they definitely had Parker in mind ... maybe even an Army! We have been truly blessed with them in our lives.

~Ann Marie