Dani Benner knew the signs of autism spectrum disorder. Her oldest son was diagnosed at 18 months, and chances were high that her third child would also be on the spectrum. When her daughter Piper arrived, Dani was determined to be proactive ... just in case.
She enrolled Piper in a clinical trial at Marcus Autism Center that assessed her eye-tracking abilities when she was just weeks old. Dani carefully monitored the milestones Piper met and those she missed. So at 12 months, when Dani learned her daughter was indeed on the spectrum, the diagnosis came as no surprise.
“The reaction wasn’t tears or devastation,” she says. “We knew the value of early intervention and that we were partners with Marcus — we were in the best hands possible.”
“Autism spectrum disorder is a social communication disorder, also characterized by restricted interest and repetitive behaviors,” says Marcus Clinical Care Coordinator Chris Booth. “Early intervention is key. It's when lives can really be changed.”
That’s why Dani and Piper immediately got to work. “We were able to spend nine months of really targeted time building Piper’s skills, building her capabilities and focusing on what was important to our clinical team here and to her parents as well,” says Chris.
“Piper worked incredibly hard with an incredible team. On her third birthday, it was announced that she was no longer showing signs of being on the autism spectrum,” says Dani. “Knowing that she has this wide-open, clear, blank slate to live her life is a pretty incredible thing. I think that's what makes for a miracle child. She's a true product of early intervention.”
Now age 4, Piper is feisty and opinionated. She loves to color and dance. And she loves making friends at the playground.
“Autism is not a life-ending diagnosis. It comes with challenges, but it also comes with a lot of beautiful benefits. The more you know and the more assistance you have, the better outcome you have,” says Dani. “Often people don't want to label kids, but when we properly identify autism, we can give parents hope.”