Pacific Grove – Deanna Sommars knew something was different about her four-year-old son, Seth, right from the start. "He wasn't like my other kids; he was very complacent, and I think even in his baby book I had written likes things more than people," said Sommars. Seth was diagnosed as having a global developmental delay with autistic features. His parents have had him in early intervention programs from a young age and most recently got involved in the Play and Language for Autistic Youngsters Project, or P.L.A.Y. Project.
Dr. Rick Solomon is a leading expert in autism and founder of the P.L.A.Y. Project. He recently spoke at a conference in Monterey. "I think one of the most important things that parents want from their child, especially a child with autism, is to connect. And children with autism tend to reject you because human relationships are scary, and they're difficult, they're complicated. And children with autism will even reject their own parents in favor of quote, keeping the world the same. So what the P.L.A.Y. Project does is it actually teaches parents, yes you can get connected; you can have fun with your child," said Dr. Solomon. He added that most autistic children need 25 hours of therapy a week, an amount that can be cost prohibitive. His P.L.A.Y. Project teaches parents how to provide that therapy in their own home. Now through a grant from First Five Monterey County, Easter Seals Central California is offering this service for free.
Mark Wenzler is the P.L.A.Y. Project Home Consultant for Seth's family. "My role as a home consultant is primarily there to teach the parent how to implement the program and the techniques with their child. Within doing that I will play with the child and model for the parent, I'll coach the parent," said Wenzler.
Learning how to play with her son is something Sommars, a mother of four, never thought she'd have to do. Wenzler visits them once a month for three hours. After each visit, Sommars follows up by playing with Seth for about 25 hours a week. She says she's learned to follow her son's lead when he may otherwise shut her out.
The First Five Monterey County grant gives this family a year of the P.L.A.Y. Project. Six months in, Sommars has already noticed a difference. "Absolutely, it's been really hard to bond with him, in the beginning, really hard. I can't even really remember what I felt like in the beginning. I know that it was hard, but it's so not the case now I feel so connected with him. It's good. I feel like he is connecting as well, which is really exciting," said Sommars.
The free P.L.A.Y. Project services are for children under the age of five who have autism or are at risk of a diagnosis. To learn more, call Easter Seals Central California at (831) 684-2166. You can reach Mark Wenzler at extension 118 or by email at mark[insert at symbol]es-cc.org