Signing Autistic Lives grew out of a life-changing encounter between the families of Candice Chakhtoura and a 7-year-old boy named Alex…
When Alex F. was 2, his parents began to notice changes in his behavior. In contrast to his two siblings, the previously engaged and sunny child became withdrawn and silent. Communication became progressively more difficult, and just getting through each day was an increasing challenge for everyone in the family circle.
Following his diagnosis, Alex’s family began a course of medical, dietary and educational therapies that stretched their finances – along with their emotional and psychological resources — to the utmost.
Alex, now 7, attends a private school for children with autism, and until recently, his outbursts, temper tantrums and inappropriate behavior resulted in daily struggles at home and in school. Learning even the smallest amount of information was difficult, and his parents’ hopes of a transition to public school were diminishing. Behavioral and occupational therapies provided some improvement, but genuine communication and understanding seemed almost unattainable. Frustration was part of the household’s everyday landscape.
The tide began to turn one Sunday afternoon when Alex, his parents and some friends — Candice Chakhtoura and her daughter, Danielle — met on a church playground. Playing on a swing set with the boy and his mom, Danielle shared some sign language with Alex, who rapidly acquired the signs and wanted more. Those few simple gestures touched off a cascade of communication that began dramatically improving daily life for Alex and his family in the weeks that followed.
The meeting and its aftermath awakened everyone involved to the powerful potential of ASL as a communications tool in autism. It also spurred Candice’s curiosity and passion to make a difference.
Her subsequent research demonstrated that American Sign Language (ASL) was already being used successfully to facilitate communication with autistic individuals. However, no resource linking ASL with autism treatment existed in the Northeast Florida/Southeast Georgia region. Signing Autistic Lives was born to meet that need.
Today, Alex’s frustration level is less and his behavior continues to improve, to the delight of family, teachers, doctors and therapists. He eagerly learns new signs, initiates interaction with his parents and speaks in conjunction with his signing. His personal journey continues, filled with hope and promise, and his story has inspired a business that serves other children and families living with autism.