Jennifer VanDerHorst-Larson took her son Cade’s severe autism, diagnosed after receiving his vaccines at 15 months old, a little differently than most parents. Rather than accept her son’s place in a school that was ill equipped to properly teach him, she started Holland Center where Cade and other children with autism can learn safely at their own paces. Along with husband David, Jennifer also started two IT companies and C.A.D.E (Children with Autism Deserve Education). Cade, now 10 years old, is a full-time pupil at Holland Center and is learning in ways that wouldn’t be possible without his mother’s unrelenting entrepreneurial drive.
Can you tell us a little about the Holland Center?
I knew there were other parents looking for the same thing: a center for kids with autism with close supervision, professional staffing, in a safe, chemical-free, allergen-free environment. The ABA method we use (Applied Behavor Analysis) is direct, one-on-one teaching. Verbal Behavior is the application of ABA and it focuses on verbal response.
What are some other things you’re involved in?
On the federal level there’s the Combating Autism Act that’s sunsetting this fall. Some of Senator Menendez’s (D-NJ) bill isn’t what the group wants, the group being the Combating Autism Act Reauthorization Coalition. We want to amend the bill to make it more effective at a lower cost.
I don’t believe vaccines cause all cases of autism. I’m on the Vaccine Safety Council of Minnesota, and I’m not anti-vaccine. Parents need to be better educated and think about not combining all their shots in one dose or one day. There were no studies when we had Cade vaccinated and I wish there had been. I’m trying to inform parents they can ask for single-vial vaccines.
Tell us a little about Cade.
He was developing normally until we went in for his 15-month shots. He lost all his skills quite literally within a 24-hour period. By teaching with the ABA repetition, he can learn in ways he couldn’t in a school setting. There’s just no money for them to give him the help he needs. He’s happy; he loves it there [Holland Center]. He’s learning life skills like dressing himself, tying his shoes, speech and articulation, and numbers, addition, and subtraction.
Minnesota has the highest prevalence of autism in the nation. It’s especially common in the Somali community, which I’m active in, where it’s 1 in 28 children. It’s called an epidemic, and epidemics can’t be genetically caused. Some people are genetically susceptible, but that’s not the case here. People see Rain Man or a child with Asperger’s but that’s not what we’re dealing with here. These problems didn’t exist when I was in school. There weren’t kids who banged their heads against the wall until they passed out and severely injured themselves. These are kids who are severely disabled and need a lot of help to learn what other kids learn.
Real Parent is the opinion of the interview subject, not the opinion of Minnesota Parent magazine.