Imagine being told that your child cannot attend school. Thirteen years ago, this is what happened to Megumi Terashita-Clark, the mother of two children affected by autism (Kaitlin who is now 20 years-old and Marty now 17 years-old). When her seven-year-old daughter was sent home from Grade 2, Megumi was desperate. It was from that place of desperation, she discovered SelfDesign.

This was right at the beginning of SelfDesign’s Special Education program when there was only ten participants. Kaitlin was severely challenged with autism and SelfDesign educator, Kathleen Forsythe, was assigned to be her learning consultant. She has been her learning consultant now for 13 years and Marty for 12 years. Kaitlin recently completed her SelfDesign education and Marty is in his final year.

“At the time, I didn’t know if we could serve her needs but I said I would try,” said Kathleen. “Kaitlin’s incredible response to our SelfDesign approach is arguably one of the reasons we currently have 493 children with autism enrolled in SelfDesign.”

“Kaitlin’s incredible response to our SelfDesign approach is arguably one of the reasons we currently have 493 children with autism enrolled in SelfDesign.”

When Megumi started with SelfDesign, she had worries. “Having a child with special needs, and myself not being a teacher, made me doubt whether I could do this,” she said. “But Kathleen assured me that’s what she was there for as a certified educator and reminded me that I know my child best and, therefore, I would be the best teacher for her.”

The results of this amazing combination of outside support paired with her own knowledge of her child amazed Megumi.

“When we came to SelfDesign, we started to realize that Kaitlin had passions. She started to reveal herself. I have a completely different girl now,” she explained.

Kaitlin and Marty are both non-speaking. That doesn’t mean they can’t communicate. Both children can understand two languages (English and Japanese), but they are essentially unable to enter into a conversation in an easy way. They couldn’t tell you their name or phone number if they got lost and they have to have 24/7 care. Both of them have the challenge of motor dyspraxia. In other words, like many kids affected by autism, their sensory systems have developed differently.

The programing that SelfDesign is able to offer is so compatible for supporting learners with these sorts of complex needs because it is personalized to each individual child.

“We were able to allow their learning be around their passions and their strengths,” said Megumi. “We were able to set up a program around them, rather them having to fit into a program.”

Both children are now capable of reading, which no one thought was possible. About four years ago, using a choice based method called rapid prompting method (RPM), Kathleen and Megumi discovered that the children had full understanding of everything (could spell and read). However, because of their motor dyspraxia, they couldn’t sign, speak or write or even use the iPad to express what they might want to say. This new method began to change everything…they realized providing choices helped them learn. Since then, they have done remarkable things.

In addition to Kathleen’s support, the family also has education assistants come to their home. They also use the community as a big part of their learning by taking trips to the Vancouver Aquarium and Science World on a regular basis. SelfDesign has also contracted professionals to provide music, art, skating and gymnastics lessons which have allowed Megumi’s children to be successful in areas no one thought possible.

Watch the video below to hear more about Kaitlin and Megumi’s life-changing experience with SelfDesign:

Along with SelfDesign Learning Foundation, Kathleen and Megumi have built a program called Journeys: an innovative new parent education program designed for parents of children with developmental challenges including, but not limited to, Autism Spectrum Disorder (with or without a diagnosis).

A pilot of the Journeys ecourse was conducted in the spring and due to its success, the full program will be available later this year for SelfDesign families.

“It’s really important that parents have hope,” Megumi said. “When the diagnosis gets given, it looks bleak. The hopes and dreams you might have had for your children are changed utterly.” The autism diagnosis is a challenge we never expected. However, what SelfDesign did for our family is allow us to bring the best out of our kids. I’d like to pass that hope along to other families. The sky’s the limit.”