A Different Kind of Adventure

We see a lot of special and inspiring families at Kennedy Krieger. Shannon and Kurt Berman, along with their son Cooper, are perfect examples.

Throughout the pregnancy with Cooper, and from the time he was born, his parents were determined to give him a multicultural upbringing. Having lived and worked all over the world themselves, they strongly believed in the importance of raising him in different countries, submerged in different cultures and adventure. But when Cooper was diagnosed with autism, they worried that their plans would have to be laid aside and that their goal of raising their son internationally might be impossible.

By the time Cooper had turned 1 year old, his parents had already become worried about odd behaviors, which only seemed to be getting worse. Like so many of the children I see with autism, he seemed disconnected, didn’t make eye contact, screamed and cried unexplainably, and demonstrated repetitive behaviors, such as opening and closing doors over and over and over again. At the time when these unusual behaviors began to emerge, Cooper and his parents were living on a small island of Thailand, in the middle of the Indian Ocean. People there don’t even believe in developmental disabilities, let alone offer treatment for them.

Shannon emailed some friends back in the United States. Having grown up in Maryland, she’d heard of Kennedy Krieger, so when, after a little research, her friends recommended the Institute’s Center for Autism and Related Disorders (CARD), she took their advice.

In May 2009, the Berman family arrived at Kennedy Krieger, where, at 14 months of age, Cooper was diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder. Shannon and Kurt were so pleased with the care here, and so determined to do all they could to give Cooper the best chance at a fulfilling life, that they made what was, for them, as difficult a decision as it was selfless: They decided Shannon would move back to the United States with Cooper so he could be enrolled in our unique intervention program for infants and toddlers who are showing signs of autism. Kurt, meanwhile, would stay in Thailand and continue working.

Fast-forward almost two years, and the fruit of their wise decision is evident. Cooper’s wonderful progress is a testimony to the power of early intensive intervention. It is only through the devoted and determined parenting choices made by Shannon and Kurt that he had this early opportunity. Today, Cooper is talking and playing, socializing and laughing, even adapting to the nuances of his new culture in Asia, where he eats with chopsticks! He’s just an incredibly happy little boy.

And while his parents credit much of his success to CARD, we know, without a doubt, that nothing we can do matters without committed, loving parents who are willing to do whatever it takes for their kids. And the Bermans are exactly that kind of family.

As for adventure? In February 2011, the family packed up to move to Shanghai, China, where they plan to eventually enroll Cooper in an international school and learn Mandarin together—all while continuing their son’s speech therapy and autism care. None of it would be possible if Cooper didn’t have the kind of parents who would literally travel around the world to get him the help he needed. Special parents indeed.

Dr. Rebecca Landa is the director of the Center for Autism and Related Disorders at Kennedy Krieger Institute.

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