Exclusive look: New program helps families deal with autism

Website for Hospital for Special Care in New Britain.

NEW BRITAIN, Conn (WTNH) –  April is autism awareness month, and one Connecticut hospital is marking it by letting News 8 be the first news organization inside of its new autism unit.

Inside, we got to meet 11 year-old Jacob. He is smart, but severely autistic. When The Hospital for Special Care in New Britain opened its in-patient autism ward in December, Jacob was the first patient.

“Part of the work we do here in the unit is to decrease his behaviors,” explained Dr. Patricia Aguayo, who runs the autism unit. “We are teaching his family how to handle that as well.”

Little things in his environment can trigger Jacob to lash out. His mother, Melissa Lee, found out Jacob was autistic when he was just 15 months old. His behavior got worse as he got older.

“Very bad aggressive towards my other kids. Too much to handle,” Lee said.

Too much for Melissa to handle because Lee is a single mom with two other kids. She finally had to take Jacob to Connecticut Children’s Medical Center.

“Well, we were at CCMC for two weeks until they found a bed in New Hampshire, and then he was there for, I’d say nine months,” Lee said.

Nine months all the way in New Hampshire, where Lee could only drive up and see Jacob every couple of weeks. Then, The Hospital for Special Care opened its autism unit in December, and now Jacob’s family can visit all the time.

Amazingly, there are only 12 in-patient autism units like this in the country. That’s amazing because an estimated 2 million Americans are somewhere on the autism spectrum. The Hospital for Special Care also hosts an online forum called the Spectrum of Kindness full of stories of courage and inspiration.

“They describe what it’s like to be a person with autism, so it’s a wonderful way for folks to get educated on autism,” said Dr. Aguayo

Jacob doesn’t talk much, so he’s not going to be telling his own story, but with the help he is getting in New Britain, he may soon be heading home. That’s the how this unit works.

“Work on their behaviors, bring the family to treatment,” said Dr. Aguayo. “That’s very important for this program, and then make sure they have what they need to be able to go back home and stay home.”

That means Melissa and her other two kids have had to learn and change even more than Jacob.

“I’m a little nervous for him to come home, because I don’t want this to happen again, but I do want him home.”

As tough as it was to have him at home, it has been even tougher to be apart from Jacob.

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