For the Evan and Angie Palmer family, something had to change, and soon. Four-year-old Levi—the youngest of the three children of the Sheldon, Iowa family—wasn’t sleeping and wasn’t eating. He was also having over 100 self-injurious behaviors a day—mostly hitting his head against walls or with his hands.
Diagnosed at age two with autism, Levi’s symptoms were more than his preschool could handle, and caused havoc at home. Levi was active around the clock, and Angie was sleeping only two to three hours a night. “All of our energy and time was going into caring for Levi,” says Angie. “Our girls were basically raising themselves.”
When the option of having Levi enroll in the residential and school programs at LifeScape was presented, it provided both hope and anxiety for the Palmers. “It was like sending a preschooler off to college,” says Angie. “He’s nonverbal, so he couldn’t tell us how he was doing. We couldn’t call and talk to him, and Skype doesn’t really work for him.” The Palmers made the difficult decision to have Levi be away from home at LifeScape, knowing it was the right thing to do. He enrolled a month before his fifth birthday, in February 2014.
It took Levi awhile to settle in. He was strong and sneaky, says Angie, and he needed a safety helmet to keep him from hurting himself. He quickly learned to get take it off, mastered a second helmet almost as fast, and finally got a custom-made helmet that kept him safe when his self-injury was at its worst. “We saw some improvements right away, but then he’d backslide. After about eight months, though, he really started taking off. Now Levi doesn’t need his helmet, his behaviors are largely under control, and he is eating well and trying new foods. He no longer needs one-on-one supervision in his classroom, he sleeps through the night, and is off all medications.
Meanwhile, the Palmers have been able to return to a normal family life for 14-year-old Lacey and 18-year-old Cheyenne. “He’s happy,” says Angie. “When he comes home for visits, he’s ready to go back to LifeScape. He has so many adults to interact with there, and they have so many activities for him.”
Levi is now nine. The goal is to transition him back to the Sheldon School District once he overcomes his communication barriers. LifeScape is working hard with him to meet that goal. “We don't know what the future holds for Levi, but we take comfort in knowing that with the help of his LifeScape family, Levi will become the best young man that he can be,” says Angie. He is also working on increasing his activities in the community, and on building his independence and self-care skills.
Angie gets tearful when she talks about how far Levi has come. “We have been so blessed to have a place like LifeScape for Levi,” she says. “All we want for him is to be the best he can be, and to be happy.”