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Wrapping-Up Autism Awareness Month with a Heartfelt Journey at Marcus Autism Center

Heather Miller and her son Micah

Heather Miller, Director, Clinical Resource Management, The Support Center, and her husband Randy are no strangers to the challenges of raising children. The Millers have seven children and have shared their home as foster parents for five years. But from the beginning, they knew their youngest child Micah was a little different.

“He slept a lot—around 20 to 22 hours a day,” Heather said. “He was a great baby, I thought he was the easiest baby I had ever mothered!”

But over time, Heather and Randy started to worry that Micah wasn’t developing like other kids. He was very slow to pick up on his milestones—he wasn’t smiling, making eye contact or communicating. At first, the pediatrician reassured them that he would catch up, but as he got further and further behind, Heather and Randy became increasingly worried.

By the time he was nearly 2 years old, Micah’s family knew they needed answers and scheduled him for an evaluation. “It’s a pretty extensive process, and it was during this time I realized how smart he is—I hadn’t understood his true potential without being able to communicate,” Heather explained. “He didn’t seem to understand what was happening around him but watching him in the evaluation was fascinating. He couldn’t point at a picture of a dog when asked, but he was solving intricate little puzzles that they had inside of plexiglass boxes.”

The Monday before COVID-19 turned everything upside down, March 15, 2020, the Millers got Micah’s results. He received a provisional diagnosis of autism. But before they could schedule a tour at Marcus Autism Center, the COVID-19 pandemic changed everything.

“With schools and daycares closed, my poor husband was trying to work from home with five kids, and I was still working five days a week at Children’s,” Heather said. “We still started working with Micah on a few things that summer, such as how to teach him to point and how to reward eye contact.” It was then that Marcus Autism Center called the Millers with incredible news: they were reopening and there was a slot open for Micah in the preschool program.

Heather and Randy were thrilled to have him in a place that really understood him and his unique needs. One day stands out to Heather shortly after Micah began the preschool program. “I was tucking him in for bed and decided to play a song they were learning in school,” she said. “Micah lit up! He looked up at me and said, ‘school!’ and I said, ‘Yes, you learned this at school!’ It was the first time I felt like we really connected and communicated.”

Fast forward to today, Micah’s parents say he has grown by leaps and bounds. He now shares in great detail what he did at school, who he sat with next to lunch and who got in trouble. Despite his outstanding growth, however, Micah still struggles with behavior, emotional regulation, sensory and social issues.