Dancing Thomas

Saturday, July 7, 2007 | 2:00 a.m. CDT; updated 12:30 a.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

Thomas Jackson keeps expanding his repertoire. He dances as well as sings. He chauffeurs his younger sister, Malinda, around the kitchen table on a tricycle, talks to his grandmother on the telephone, dresses himself and makes his own snacks.

A year ago, Thomas had trouble speaking. Six months ago, he was still in pull-ups. In early July, he spontaneously greeted his grandparents during a surprise visit by bursting out with the lyrics for “Herman the Worm” and giving his grandmother a bearhug.

On July 16, Thomas will have his annual neuropsychological exam, and his team of family, therapists and teachers is anxious to learn the specifics of his progress over the past year.

Kimberly Matthews continues to have aspirations for her son that include mainstream grade school and college. Most of all, she wants him to have a happy and fulfilled life.

“It’s hard for me to always be on top of his milestones because there have been so many, and I am caught up in the moment of the day-to-day with him,” Matthews said.

Thomas is making so much progress that his team of therapists is planning more meetings to keep pace.

“It is almost every week now that I notice something new,” said Ashley Burris, Thomas’ behavioral therapy associate and a psychology major at Columbia College. She said Thomas recently spoke to her in a complete sentence ­— “Can you help me, please?” — instead of the single-word commands that he usually uses.

The increase in his verbal skills has also brought out more facial expressions and enabled him to better communicate with Malinda.

“The other morning I was in my bedroom and suddenly filled with delight when I heard him scream her name because she had taken his Lightning McQueen car,” Matthews said. “We are working on getting him to verbalize his feelings with her, and it is a two-way street to get him to listen to her needs.”

Matthews gets teary when she reflects on the early months of therapy. “We missed family gatherings and outings because he would bolt back then and run off in any direction without warning,” she said.

That’s all changing for the better.

“I relish taking him out with Malinda these days because we have fun as a family and laugh and I’m not constantly worried about how he will react,” Matthews said. “There is a trust there now that is bringing our family closer together.”

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Abbey Riley July 11, 2007 | 11:09 a.m.

I used to babysit Thomas and Malinda before I had my own daughter, and seeing first hand how he has progressed is wonderful! Kim, his mother, is an inspiration to all parents with autistic children; no matter how hard it gets, no matter what other facets of her life have thrown at her, Kim has always given her all to her children. She has made a wonderful home for both Malinda and Thomas, and has committed herself fully to making sure that Thomas gets all the assistance he needs to live a functional, healthy life. What's more, she does her best to make time and spare resources to help others as well. She's a noble lady and her children will surely grow to be happy, healthy, productive members of our community through her efforts.

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