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Unlocking Potential: How Shakavia’s Journey Through the AERC Provided a Pathway to Success

On July 7, 2017, a beautiful little girl named Shakavia Tra’miya Highsmith entered the world, weighing 4 pounds 12.9 ounces. As she grew, her mother Nekena Litzsey and her family noticed peculiarities in her behavior. “As time went by, we started noticing little things about her,” recalled Nekena. “By the age of two, we noticed her spinning around in circles regularly, flapping her hands, putting non-food items in her mouth like ice, dirt, sticks, dust, etc., and her moods changing frequently.” At three, she developed specific routines and struggled with changes, resisting tasks outside her comfort zone.

At age four, Shakavia entered the Headstart program to prepare for kindergarten. Morning drop-offs became challenging, and she preferred solitude over interacting with peers. Her behaviors escalated at age five, drawing attention at school. “She was biting and hitting her teachers after being told what to do multiple times,” explained Nekena. “She refused to stay focused on the task that she and the rest of class were instructed to do, and she would throw temper tantrums. My oldest daughter and I often had to check her out of school due to her disruptive behaviors.” Extra measures had to be put into place to ensure Shakavia’s safety as she often ran from adults.

Nekena and family also struggled with Shakavia’s needs at home. “The only ways to keep her in a good mood were to put on her favorite TV show, give her fidget toys, and to provide toy cars which she would always line up,” Nekena shared. “As time went by, I became more stressed,” said Nekena. “I knew I needed help.”

Nekena searched online for diagnostic evaluation options, but she found that most options had long waiting periods or questionable reviews. However, Nekena noticed that the ACCESS Evaluation and Resource Center had a high rating and excellent reviews, so she called immediately. “ACCESS reached back out to me right away, and we scheduled an appointment for Shakavia in a reasonable time frame,” Nekena said. When the time came for the evaluation, Nekena and Shakavia traveled to Little Rock from South Arkansas and met with an ACCESS Evaluation Expert.

The evaluation at ACCESS was the first step to the answers Nekena had been looking for. “During our appointment, the ACCESS Evaluation Expert observed Shakavia while she talked to me about everything we had been dealing with over the past several years,” remembered Nekena. “She explained to me in detail what steps she would be taking to help Shakavia.” The evaluation confirmed diagnoses of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), as well as Pica, a condition where a person compulsively swallows non-food items. “Once we had our diagnoses, Mrs. Newton expedited the process to provide Shakavia the support she needed. After the appointment, I was provided with a list of places to contact for therapy for her diagnoses.”

Post-diagnosis, Shakavia commenced therapy closer to home in Fordyce, Arkansas. Her therapy focused on redirecting negative behaviors, emphasizing appropriate social interactions, and introducing coping mechanisms. The impact was significant, as Shakavia progressed to first grade with remarkable improvements: enhanced socialization, reduced aggression, improved focus, and a newfound ability to share positive daily experiences. “She excelled academically, achieving A’s and B’s throughout kindergarten and maintaining an all-A’s honor roll in first grade,” Nekena proudly shared. “Shakavia’s newfound calmness even allowed her to participate in her first play, marking a significant milestone.”

Nekena continues to echo her gratitude for Shakavia’s transformative journey. “I want to give a very special thank you to ACCESS for helping my baby get the support she needed,” she said. Shakavia’s story highlights that with the right intervention and support, children can overcome obstacles, thrive academically, and participate in their families and communities in a positive and rewarding way. “To the parents who may be feeling exhausted trying to figure out how to help their child, please give ACCESS a call,” urged Nekena. “The experts there can help guide you every step of the way."