The family of a girl with “severe autism” are worried she won’t receive appropriate treatment – she’s now graduating from high school
4 mins read

The family of a girl with “severe autism” are worried she won’t receive appropriate treatment – she’s now graduating from high school

Sarah Crichigno says watching her daughter Hope walk on stage was “very emotional”: “all the tears, just everything. It was amazing”.



<p>Sarah Crichigno</p>
<p> Hope Crichigno, who graduated from high school in May after years of intensive applied behavior analysis (ABA) therapy that is difficult to achieve in her home state of West Virginia” src=”https://s.yimg.com/ny/api/res /1.2/Gc9bCXeexLdhPbH9yEczTQ–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTk2MDtoPTY0MA–/https://media.zenfs.com/en/people_218/51de519a7e3fef2ba15849cf473bbbdc”/></p>
<p>Sarah Crichigno</p>
<p> Hope Crichigno, who graduated from high school in May after years of intensive applied behavior analysis (ABA) therapy that is difficult to achieve in her home state of West Virginia” src=”https://s.yimg.com/ny/api/res /1.2/Gc9bCXeexLdhPbH9yEczTQ–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTk2MDtoPTY0MA–/https://media.zenfs.com/en/people_218/51de519a7e3fef2ba15849cf473bbbdc” class=”caas-img”/><button class=

Sara Crichigno

Hope Crichigno, who graduated from high school in May after years of intensive applied behavior analysis (ABA) therapy, which is difficult to achieve in her home state of West Virginia

  • West Virginia teenager Hope Crichigno was diagnosed as a toddler with “severe autism,” which refers to a severe version of the disorder

  • Her family helped her find effective therapeutic services that improved her skills and quality of life

  • At 19, she was ready to graduate from high school, an emotional milestone

Hope Crichigno’s family once thought that imagining the West Virginia teenager graduating from high school would be a stretch, given her issues with severe autism and the lack of nearby treatment services.

Now the 19-year-old has achieved this goal, which her mother, Sarah Crichigno, said would not have been possible without the people who have helped her over the years.

“It’s just amazing how it came together,” Sarah tells PEOPLE. “Every now and then we look back on it and we just have to stop and reflect on how grateful we are for everything.”

Related: Quintuplets make history after graduating from the same college: ‘A gigantic moment’



<p>Sarah Crichigno</p>
<p> Hope Crichigno in her graduation cap and gown in May” src=”https://s.yimg.com/ny/api/res/1.2/5dZqkdpV4_nZNYeXreuT.g–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTk2MDtoPTY0MQ–/https://media. zenfs.com/en/people_218/1d5e15396cb7a3bc1447da9b04c41685″/></p>
<p>Sarah Crichigno</p>
<p> Hope Crichigno in her graduation cap and gown in May” src=”https://s.yimg.com/ny/api/res/1.2/5dZqkdpV4_nZNYeXreuT.g–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTk2MDtoPTY0MQ–/https://media. zenfs.com/en/people_218/1d5e15396cb7a3bc1447da9b04c41685″ class=”caas-img”/><button class=

Sara Crichigno

Hope Crichigno in her graduation cap and gown in May

Hope’s mother was with her when she was 24 weeks pregnant when she was born “micro premature,” and Hope spent the first six months of her life in the neonatal intensive care unit.

“We weren’t sure if she was even going to survive,” Sarah says, noting that Hope “was very direct many, many times.”

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While Hope was in the hospital, doctors told her parents that she would likely have some serious medical condition. When Hope was a toddler, she was diagnosed with autism.

“Even though we had been warned, I felt a little disbelief,” Sarah recalls.



<p>Sarah Crichigno</p>
<p> Hope Crichigno as a baby in the neonatal intensive care unit” src=”https://s.yimg.com/ny/api/res/1.2/mjF5T.8GVRBVz4nFLy.K2w–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTk2MDtoPTcyMA–/https://media.zenfs .com/en/people_218/cabb868552ae00fb668dfad2a3b6bb2f”/></p>
<p>Sarah Crichigno</p>
<p> Hope Crichigno as a baby in the neonatal intensive care unit” src=”https://s.yimg.com/ny/api/res/1.2/mjF5T.8GVRBVz4nFLy.K2w–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTk2MDtoPTcyMA–/https://media.zenfs .com/en/people_218/cabb868552ae00fb668dfad2a3b6bb2f” class=”caas-img”/><button class=

Sara Crichigno

Hope Crichigno as a baby in the neonatal intensive care unit

Hope was 3 years old when she was diagnosed with “severe autism,” a term used to describe an extreme version of the disorder. Doctors recommended that she undergo seven to eight hours of intensive therapy every day, “and it’s just an intimidating task,” her mother says.

Hope’s parents were involved with Dr. Susannah Poe, who runs the WVU Medicine Children’s Hospital Neurodevelopmental Center. They met when Hope attended a check-up in the NICU before receiving her autism diagnosis.

Related: Mother and son graduate from college together after competing for higher grade point averages: ‘Now I owe him $500!’

Fortunately for Crichignos, Poe had just opened the clinic – formerly known as the Autism Intensive Care Clinic – shortly before he learned that Hope needed specialized services.

Poe says it was a very small operation at the time, with no funding.

After learning there was an opening for Hope, the Crichigno family moved to Morgantown to be closer to the clinic. Now they say they were thrilled to have found the care their daughter needed.



<p>Sarah Crichigno</p>
<p> Sarah Crichigno on the left and young Hope Crichigno on the right” src=”https://s.yimg.com/ny/api/res/1.2/.tL1ZX8h6PXDBUzwg2RZwA–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTcwNTtoPTk0MA–/https://media.zenfs.com /en/people_218/243a678ea13a029715040acdede56808″/></p>
<p>Sarah Crichigno</p>
<p> Sarah Crichigno on the left and young Hope Crichigno on the right” src=”https://s.yimg.com/ny/api/res/1.2/.tL1ZX8h6PXDBUzwg2RZwA–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTcwNTtoPTk0MA–/https://media.zenfs.com /en/people_218/243a678ea13a029715040acdede56808″ class=”caas-img”/></p></div>
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Sara Crichigno

Sarah Crichigno on the left and young Hope Crichigno on the right

Hope was non-verbal, lacked specific social skills and was not eating on her own when she first arrived at the clinic at age 5, Poe tells PEOPLE.

However, through applied behavior analysis (ABA) therapy, she learned several key life skills – such as feeding herself, using the toilet independently, washing her hands, following commands and saying certain phrases – as well as skills she will need to attend school.

“Part of our joy in working with Hopey was watching her develop as she acquired these skills,” says Poe, using the teenager’s favorite nickname.

Related: Commencement speaker brings duffel bags of cash and gives graduates $1,000 each — with a catch!

According to her mother, Hope learned a lot by imitating and reinforcing good behaviors and habits with objects that “fascinated” her, such as rubber ducks, bubbles, disco lights, and more.

At the age of 8, she began attending school part-time. She had to adapt to a completely new environment, very different from the clinic she was used to and full of new stimuli.

“But she did it. She did great,” says Sarah, adding that Hope “had the most wonderful elementary school teacher we could ever ask for and he just loved her.”



<p>Sarah Crichigno</p>
<p> Hope Crichigno, 19, in graduation cap and gown” src=”https://s.yimg.com/ny/api/res/1.2/SlxukMh_7XqgMIvYHxh0Lg–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTcwNTtoPTk0MA–/https://media.zenfs .com/en/people_218/96b1e7ab1294fa3c2f3e30fcacec78b3″/></p>
<p>Sarah Crichigno</p>
<p> Hope Crichigno, 19, in graduation cap and gown” src=”https://s.yimg.com/ny/api/res/1.2/SlxukMh_7XqgMIvYHxh0Lg–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTcwNTtoPTk0MA–/https://media.zenfs .com/en/people_218/96b1e7ab1294fa3c2f3e30fcacec78b3″ class=”caas-img”/></p></div>
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Sara Crichigno

Hope Crichigno, 19, in her graduation cap and gown

At school, Hope studied science, English and mathematics like other students, although her studies “were tailored to her special needs.” At age 19, she was ready to graduate from University High School in Morgantown.

Hope spent a week preparing for this special day, which brought her mother to tears. “She walked across the stage, her name was announced, and it was like we just exploded,” Sarah says. “Every emotion – all the tears, just everything. It was amazing.”

Sarah says the teenager is “still learning and growing” every day. Hope remains in contact with both Dr. Poe and Haley Johnson, a former student she connected with at the clinic.

Related: 11 sets of twins who graduated from the same Pennsylvania high school together

Johnson, a certified behavior analyst, tells PEOPLE that she, too, has enjoyed watching Hope grow over the years and is proud that she helped her achieve her goals, including fond childhood experiences like sleepovers.

“Watching him acquire these small, basic skills and develop them over the last almost 10 years has been special to me,” he says.



<p>Sarah Crichigno</p>
<p> Hope Crichigno (center) at Haley Johnson’s 2021 bachelorette party.” src=”https://s.yimg.com/ny/api/res/1.2/ZjsZTPUbvJA0Nz4Zcm5s5A–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTcwNTtoPTk0MA–/https://media .zenfs.com/en/people_218/25067a5775194a76e42c0bf2e6d9e602″/></p>
<p>Sarah Crichigno</p>
<p> Hope Crichigno (center) at Haley Johnson’s 2021 bachelorette party.” src=”https://s.yimg.com/ny/api/res/1.2/ZjsZTPUbvJA0Nz4Zcm5s5A–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTcwNTtoPTk0MA–/https://media .zenfs.com/en/people_218/25067a5775194a76e42c0bf2e6d9e602″ class=”caas-img”/></p></div>
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Sara Crichigno

Hope Crichigno (center) at Haley Johnson’s 2021 bachelorette party

Both Hope and Johnson celebrated their major accomplishments together: Not only did Johnson attend Hope’s graduation, but he also recently attended her wedding.

“She plays a special role in my life,” Johnson tells PEOPLE.

Clinics offering ABA therapy are difficult to find in West Virginia. According to Johnson, 41 of the state’s 50 counties do not have access to such services in a clinic setting.

Generally, ABA therapy uses methods of encouragement and reinforcement to help patients focus more on positive behaviors and less on negative ones. Although the practice and some techniques have been debated and controversial, health care experts describe them as evidence-based.

Related: Disabled high school student felt ‘robbed’ after having to sit in audience at graduation

ABA therapy done “properly and ethically” can produce “great results for many, many people,” Poe says.

Meanwhile, Sarah hopes her daughter’s story will lead to more programs and support for people with autism of all ages, but especially adults and those most in need.

“We have a whole generation of people with severe autism who are getting older,” he explains. “There should be more facilities in the country to provide their care and maintenance because (Hope) also needs a meaningful life.”

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Read the original article on People.