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2008 National Child Representative Scottie Gaither

Scottie Gaither with speech therapistScottie Gaither is a “can do” kind of kid. He’s a bright, curious and determined second grader who greets everyone with an engaging smile.

He’s quick to talk about how he loves to swim and play soccer, and do things with his family, especially with his Dad.

Meeting 8-year-old Scottie today, it’s hard to imagine the toddler his family and friends recall, who was diagnosed with “severe autism” at age two. Last spring, he was named the top first grade student in his class, a distinction he takes in stride.

Becky Spear, his speech therapist at River Road Elementary School admires Scottie’s attitude. “He’s a bundle of energy, with a positive attitude who always wants to do his best. He’s really supportive of the other kids, and even a bit of a flirt.” He’s also still working to perfect his “s” sounds.

Shannon and Barbara Gaither had thought of Scottie as a typical newborn and toddler, reaching the usual developmental milestones much like his older sisters Sarah and Carly. And, then, at 16 months, he began to lose his language. It was the first clue for his parents.

Highly sensitive to Scottie’s significant language regression, they also began to see how Scottie struggled with any type of transition or change. His sister, Sarah, remembers his tantrums. “He knew exactly what he wanted, but he couldn’t communicate. He was trapped in his own little box.”

The Gaithers talked with Scottie’s pediatrician, who recommended they see a specialist in Atlanta, and they were off. When Barbara thinks of the first time she heard that her baby had tested “severely autistic,” she refers to it as one of her darkest times. Looking back, five years later, she’s very hopeful and grateful that Easter Seals offered early intervention and child care, just down the road from their home in Columbus, Georgia.

“He walked in with his mom and I fell in love instantly,” says Sandy Thornton, Scottie’s lead teacher at Easter Seals West Georgia’s pre-school, and she smiles as she thinks back on his then frequent tantrums. “He just hated change, but we worked with him.” Scottie’s days included occupational therapy to develop his fine motor skills and work on his sensory issues, and speech therapy to regain and expand his language skills.

Barbara says, “We immediately began to see changes, within weeks of Scottie’s starting at Easter Seals. We heard new speech. We saw new behaviors, and he began to enjoy other people and make eye contact. It was amazing, and wonderful.”

The Gaithers are champions of early identification and treatment for children who have autism. Barbara says, “If we had waited and written off his oddities until he went to school, we’d be so far behind. But Scottie was ready when he went to kindergarten, and we all knew how to help him make this transition.”

Sharon Borger, CEO, Easter Seals West Georgia, calls Scottie “too hotty” and talks with pride about how he’s not the same child she first met five years ago. “He’s an independent little guy, with the skills he needs to cope. He’s social, he’s engaging, and a bundle of positive energy, and surrounded by a wonderful, supportive and loving family. We just love him.”

And, today, according to Barbara, “Life at the Gaither house is as normal as any family with three active kids and two working parents can be.”