Progress to Date

Funds Raised 2019: $142,493

32% of ATPF 2019 Operating Budget

Children Screened: 17,696

SLP Students Trained at SJSU: 2,100

Chandler Nelms

Chandler Nelms

Chandler was born on May 9, 2001, at a U.S. Naval Hospital in Okinawa, Japan. He is the only child of Marley and Chad Nelms. Unlike many other families who struggle to get an early diagnosis for their child, the Nelms' were lucky to have a close family friend who had experience with autism spectrum disorders. Dr. Mike Ricciardi of Coronado, CA, is a retired Navy Captain with over 20 years of service. He is a board certified child-adolescent psychiatrist. Early on, around 12 months, Marley began to notice that Chandler would look at things from different angles---his head constantly turning to look at things upside down or sideways; he didn't respond when his name was called, had no words, and wasn't yet walking.

At this point, Marley and Chad began to share their concerns with their friends, Dr. and Mrs. Ricciardi. After returning from a vacation, when Chandler was 13 months old, Dr. Ricciardi shared his thoughts (through informal observation) that he felt Chandler might have an autism spectrum disorder. At that time, his parents took the "wait and see" approach, and decided that if Chandler wasn't talking or using age-appropriate non-verbal communication by 18 months that they would have a formal evaluation done.

In November, 2002, at 18 months, Chandler was diagnosed with Pervasive Developmental Disorder-Not Otherwise Specified (an autism spectrum disorder). After the diagnosis, a whirlwind lifestyle began. Initially, they waited 2 months to begin treatment. On January 9th, 2003, at 20 months of age, Chandler started an in-home therapy program. The family started with 6 hours a week of applied behavior analysis (ABA) with an emphasis on Discrete Trial Training (DTT). Chandler also began 2 sessions a week of speech therapy. Within 2 months, Chandler was ready to increase his in-home therapy to 10 hours a week and speech therapy to 3 times per week (approx. 40 minutes per session). Chandler progressed quickly and said his first meaningful word at 22 months---"up"---meaning he wanted to be picked up! Since then, Chandler has come a long way in his receptive and expressive language skills.

Today, at 27 months, Chandler has a vocabulary of over 100 words and is quickly learning more. He can identify and say the colors: red, blue, white, green, purple, yellow, black, pink, and orange. He can count to 10 when prompted. He can identify and say the following shapes: square, circle, oval, triangle, rectangle, octagon, star, diamond, and heart and can identify them in the environment. For instance when he sees a street sign in the shape of a triangle, he will say "triangle". His parents can now show him something and name it and he will repeat it. He is continually learning and progressing. His current program requires great dedication and a constant determination to see Chandler succeed.

Sample of daily schedule:

  • 7:00am-8:00am: Wake up, eat breakfast
  • 8:00am-10:00am: In home ABA therapy
  • 10:30-11:15: Drive to San Diego
  • 11:15am-12pm: Speech therapy
  • 12:00pm-1:00pm: Eat lunch and travel to Children's Hospital, San Diego
  • 1:00pm-5:00pm: Children's Hospital Autism Intervention Program**
  • 5:00pm-6:00pm: Drive home-Chandler normally naps during this time.
  • 6:00pm-7:00pm: Unstructured playtime; play with mom and dad.
  • 7:00pm-7:30pm-Eat dinner
  • 8:00pm-9:00pm-Evening ritual (bath, tooth-brushing, book, lights out, nighttime video)


*No formal therapy on weekend
**A day care setting in which the teacher to student ratio is 3:1. Children receive a stimulating combination of therapies, including: floor time, PRT (pivotal response training), and DTT (discrete trial training). The center has 8 typical children and 4 children who are "at risk" for autism.
***Current therapy schedule totals 33 hours per week.

Chandler is an adorable child with an affectionate disposition. He loves cuddling and has no significant repetitive stereotypical behaviors to speak of. He has a strong love for his parents. To the untrained person, Chandler would not stand out as "different" from his peers. Chandler's favorite activities are: listening to music, playing with his trains, swimming, and watching "The Wiggles."

Chandler has progressed significantly in the past 7-8months since starting therapy, though his parents acknowledge there is still a long road ahead. His greatest challenges are in social interaction and language development. He has limited sensory issues. He still has difficulty making eye contact and showing joint attention (brining an outsider's attention to something he is interested in). He prefers solitary play, but is engaging in parallel play and making progress. (All symptoms above can be characteristic of individuals with autism spectrum disorders.)

"He who would learn to fly one day must first learn to stand and walk and run and climb and dance; one cannot fly into flying." -Friedrich Nietzsche