Outfitted with a small trampoline, an exercise ball and plenty of toys, the upstairs playroom at Lynn and Ken Pedotto's Glencoe home would be a great hangout for any active young boys. But the time their sons spend there is about more than having fun: it could help them live a normal life.
The Pedotto's sons Nicholas, 12, and Nate, 11, are both autistic. Like many parents of children with autism, the Pedotos spent years looking for effective treatments.
"For a lot of parents there’s so much out there that it’s confusing what to do," Ken said. "There are so many organizations and treatments that promise hope. There really is no silver bullet. You pick a therapy program that you agree with, and run with it."
When they lived in Charlotte, NC, the family spent two and a half years pursuing The Son-Rise Program, which is taught by the Massachusetts-based Autism Treatment Center of America. The play-based therapy became popular after the release of the biographical book Son-Rise, which tells the story a family who used the therapy to successfully treat their autistic son.
Volunteers from All Walks of Life
In Charlotte, the family used flyers and newspaper ads to seek volunteers to play with Nick and Nate. They gathered an eclectic group including a stay-at-home mom, an executive at a phone company, a security guard that played the ukulele, a few students and a police officer.
The Pedottos trained the volunteers and provided weekly feedback to make sure their sons got the most out of the therapy. Some spent years working with the boys and one student was inspired to pursue a career in special education.
"It’s just fun," Lynn said. "You reconnect with that child inside of yourself. We really don’t have any rules in the playroom. It’s really about feeling relaxed and enjoying yourself."
Knowing Nick & Nate
Ken's job brought him to the Chicago area in 2009, and now the Pedottos are looking for volunteers to restart the program, which they said was especially helpful for Nicholas who now attends mainstream classes at Glencoe Central. They hope it could also help Nathan start talking.
“Hopefully they’re going to learn to be more social," Lynn said. "Especially for Nick, he’s doing so well. Socialization is the key for him, getting him comfortable around kids his own age. I think Nick has a chance to live a normal life.”
While they haven't had much luck recruiting yet, their story did become the subject of a short documentary produced by two students at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism. "Knowing Nick & Nate" screened Sunday at the Illinois International Film Festival in Chicago.
“I love it," Lynn said. "I think we had a positive message of showing that kids with special needs have a lot of the same wants and desires as typical kids. People get a nice overview of what the day to day life is of a family with special needs, what they do and what they’re going through to help your kid.”