Towson resident Melanie Carrera said it was "divine intervention" that brought a researcher from the Kennedy Krieger Institute's Center for Autism and Related Disorders into her home and helped diagnose her son, Brent, with an autism spectrum disorder.
That early intervention has allowed Brent, 11, to lead a normal, mainstreamed life, she said.
"Every child has something special that they've been through, and this is just another example of another child who went through a special experience, was at the right place and powered through it and is thriving," Carrera said.
When Brent was around 18 months old, Carrera said, she took a number from a baby-sitting advertisement and reached out to the woman, who turned out to be a researcher at the Center for Autism.
To that point, she said she had noticed "something just a little bit different" with Brent.
"I've been around kids a lot, so I kind of knew he was not acting like the other babies I had experience with," she said. Though he was verbal at that point, she said his language was more observational than conversational, and he wasn't as engaging as other children.
The researcher noticed that Brent seemed to be less verbal than other children his age as well, and recommended that he come in for testing. He was tested by Rebecca Landa, founder and director of the Center for Autism and Related Disorders, and was diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder.
"I was caught very off-guard when she said he is on the spectrum," Carrera said. "We put him in a six-month program, and it was six hours a day of intensive one-on-one behavioral therapy and speech therapy. He finished the class, went to nursery school, and we still tweaked a couple things along the way, but he's been mainstream ever since. No (individual education plan), no additional services, nothing."
Brent, now a fifth-grader at West Towson Elementary, is a sports fanatic who plays lacrosse for the Lutherville Recreation Council.
He has an encyclopedic knowledge of the Ravens roster, takes part in a weekly advanced drawing class, and is a proud participant in the school's Patriots and Defenders program, which brings students to Washington, D.C., each year to reward them for their knowledge of American history.
Brent is on track to be a Defender this year, he said.
Because of the family's gratitude to Kennedy Krieger, the Carreras are participating in the ninth annual Kennedy Krieger Institute ROAR for Autism on Sunday, April 28, a running, walking and biking event at Oregon Ridge Park which serves as the main fundraiser for the Center for Autism Related Disorders.
Carrera said she got involved with ROAR because the services offered were much more than therapy for Brent, whom she said doesn't even remember his time at the autism center.
"They took such good care of the parents and the families," Carrera said.
She pointed to the parent support groups, an extensive resource library and a willingness to engage the parents along the way as distinguishing aspects of the center.
"It was so much more than a program," she said. "All that outreach, all those services and everything — that's all paid for through private funding."
The family has already raised around $1,500, a total which will be matched by CareFirst to bring them past last year's amount of $2,700 raised. Though the whole family, including Brent's father, Steve; and siblings, Kate, 9, and Brooks, 7, enjoy the ROAR event each year, Brent said he's ready to take the next step and run the 5K with his team this year.
His mother warned him that it's a long run, but Brent is confident he can make it.
"I can do it," he told her. "I have endurance."
To support ROAR for Autism and the Kennedy Krieger Institute's Center for Autism and Related Disorders, go to roar.kennedykrieger.org.