One family from The Center for Discovery had no idea how they would all be transformed when their son, Andrew, first arrived at The Center as a resident.
Elizabeth, Andrew’s mother, says “He’s so independent now. And so healthy. And so happy.”
Andrew arrived at The Center in February of 2019 – almost one year ago. He was 255 pounds with a diet consisting of only a few unhealthy foods. And, he was struggling with intense behavioral issues that both parents believed stemmed from boredom and frustration. Like many parents, they worried about a move away from home and the complete life change that would come with living on TCFD’s rural campus in the Catskills. Andrew, similar to his peers with autism, can get anxious when facing new situations. His language is limited, and so the anxiety he feels can be expressed in what others may regard as “odd” or aggressive behaviors.
However, the worries of Andrew’s mom and dad, Thomas, dissolved on day one. His transition to living away from home was nearly seamless. “He was fine from the first night,” says Elizabeth. “I think his behaviors are down to about nothing…He loves the constant motion. You know – helping with the meals, preparing the meals, going over to school to get the eggs in the morning. He goes out for walks. He goes over to the barn. He loves it!”
Andrew or “Drew” as he is known to his family, was in a traditional Applied Behavioral Analysis-based (ABA) school for 13 years. The Center for Discovery is based on a model of care that not only considers behavior, but is focused on biomedical problems, as well as understanding how the environment contributes to well-being.
At The Center, health, wellness and education are inextricably married into a much more robust lifestyle medicine approach known as The HealthE6® Model – the 6 core necessities for healthy living, and truly the foundation of life here. It begins with an evidence-based evaluation for any underlying bio-behavioral or environmental problems. Then, it involves focus on the environment and the creation of a natural work and home space designed to reduce stress, and provide time and opportunity for residents and students to connect with the healing landscape of Sullivan County. This was critical for Drew. His parents knew he loved to be outside, but his exposure had been limited.
The residence in which he lives is also an extension of the rural landscape. Created in part by award-winning author, speaker and professor, Temple Grandin, who also has autism, the homes are bathed in natural light and feature soothing southwestern colors and special areas where residents like Drew can take time to de-stress. The lay-out also fosters community and friendship-building in addition to skill-building. Drew has already learned to take care of himself and his room – pick out his clothes, even shave. He and his house-mates help out in the kitchen every day, preparing and cooking the food they helped grow and pick on TCFD’s organic farm.
Food, is king at The Center for Discovery. Here – Food is Medicine® – is the prevailing philosophy. And therefore, eating and nutrition are critical components of the HealthE6® Model. Adults and teens like Drew aren’t just involved in the kitchen. They also cultivate the soil, plant seeds, care for and pick the crops, sort and wash them, and then help make meals alongside a team of experts from The Center’s Department of Nourishing Arts®. Of course they also get to dig in – and learn to relish new vegetables, flavors and textures.
The entire experience – from working the soil to tasting and eating new foods is transformative. Students and residents experience less gastrointestinal problems, reflux, sugar imbalances, inflammation and skin issues. And, they are vitally connected – to the Earth, animals and each other.
Drew lost 70-pounds in ten months! And as his mom mentioned, he loves constant motion, so the aspect of the program we call energy regulation is also a definite key to his success. It’s a daily dose of vigorous exercise and other movement-based activities scheduled into the day. He knows where he will go and when because of a picture-based calendar which helps him build anticipation and decrease stress. And, that exercise? It helps him sleep better.
Considering the environment. Giving the body the fuel it needs from organic foods. Carving out time in the day to move and connect with nature and others. These are all critical aspects of life at TCFD. But they would not be complete without the ability to regulate emotions. Learning to express and practice different emotions is another key of healthy living.
Drew and many of his friends with autism are either non-verbal or have limited language. At The Center, they experience music, drama, art, theatre, dance – even yoga and muscle relaxation – as a means of expression and method of learning to control of emotions.
Evidence-Based Education and Treatment, the last E of the HealthE6® Model is really the bedrock of all of our work. Everything at TCFD is evidence-based and data-driven, and requires the expertise of professionals across many disciplines from around the world.
Thomas says the model is working. Drew is just simply thriving again. “It’s like that’s what you want as a parent – it’s him being independent and giving him a sense of purpose. And that’s what it’s really provided. It’s given us – obviously two other children – the freedom to do right by them and get them on the right path,” said Thomas. Elizabeth added, “It’s just helped everybody – from him to us – to our other kids.”
Drew went home and had a great holiday season and birthday celebration with his family – with few behavioral issues. He ate healthy. And, guess what? He went on two long walks with his family – in nature. How’s that for the ripple effect? Drew is getting his twin brother, younger sister and parents out and moving – and teaching them a little something about health – TCFD-style, of course.
For more information on the HealthE6® Model, please reach out to the Office of Strategic Outreach and Partnerships at StrategicOutreach@tcfd.org.