How would you define a leader? Someone who guides and directs? Displays authoritativeness and influence? If your definition includes any of those characteristics, then Kim Brown of South Portland is most decidedly a leader.
Kim is not the CEO of a large company or even a small one. She’s not making her way up the corporate ladder. No, hers is a personal ladder. One that hits no ceiling, glass or otherwise. It’s the rungs that matter most. So far, none has been easy to reach and it’s likely that will always be the case.
Kim is the mother of a child with autism – a bright and beautiful 5-year-old daughter named Emerson, or Eme, for short. Eme is the younger sister of Finley, who is 6 and also bright and beautiful.
Because her children were born just 11 months apart, Kim was keenly aware of developmental milestones. Finley hit each one right on the mark. Eme hit some, but not all.
“At 11 months, she was not pointing, and she was not waving,” Kim explains. “She was babbling, but not typical babbling that evolves into language. I was also worried about her hearing. I would call to her and she wouldn’t turn.”
Kim is a social worker. Because of her background and work experience, she knew about autism, a brain disorder that affects a person’s ability to communicate, reason and interact with others. She found herself wondering if Eme had autism.
When she asked people’s opinions, they would sometimes say, “Children develop in their own time” or “You’re probably just overly concerned.” She heard the same messages at a wellness check when Eme was about 15 months old. It was then that Kim’s leadership qualities shone.
“I said, ‘You know, I hear you and I hope that’s true, but I need to know where we can get an evaluation. Do I have to go through you? How does this work?’”
She was told to call Child Development Services and make an appointment. Under the supervision of the Maine Department of Education, Child Development Services helps identify children from birth to age 5 who have developmental delays and disabilities.
Kim made the appointment and within a few months, Eme was evaluated and seen by a doctor who specializes in developmental-behavioral pediatrics. The diagnosis: classic autism with global developmental delays. Even though she made sounds, Eme was also considered non-verbal because she spoke no words. She was then 21 months old.
Although it was a lot to take in, Kim had suspected autism and did her homework on early intervention programs. She had already placed Eme’s name on the waiting list for the REACH School, a special-purpose school located in South Portland for Cumberland County children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders.
“She had the most wonderful teacher in the world,” says Kim. “Ann MacIsaac. She called me days after the diagnosis and asked how I was. I said fine. She said, ‘Really?’ I started crying. A few weeks later, a team of teachers came into the home and did therapy with her, including speech and occupational therapy.”
When she turned 3, Eme started attending the REACH pre-school program. By age 4 she was no longer non-verbal.
“My husband Jerry and I strongly believe that Eme would not have made the tremendous progress that she has made, if not for an early diagnosis and immediate behavioral intervention,” Kim says. “She would not have made such significant gains in cognitive and language abilities or have any interest in trying to socially engage others.”
The family’s world was shaken this past June when the REACH School had to close because of decreased funding. Fortunately, it was taken over by Easter Seals of Maine.
“I have no idea what we would have done without Easter Seals,” says Kim. “Thankfully, we didn’t even have time to think about that. Eme finished REACH on Friday and started at Easter Seals Tuesday. Most of us would have been in a lot of trouble, a lot of trouble.”
Eme is now attending kindergarten, mainstreamed into a classroom with support. Kim says she doesn’t believe it would have been possible without an incredible early intervention team. Another mark of a strong leader – giving all the credit to the rest of the team. In Kim’s mind, taking the lead when she suspected her daughter might have autism is what any mother would do.
“There are so many other parents in my position,” she says, “doing the best they can for their children, advocating with mighty hearts.”