Mom Champions Autistic Son

. April 30, 2013.

Raising a child is never easy. Parents face a host of pitfalls, from sibling rivalry to financial misfortunes. Bringing up a youngster is even harder when your little boy or girl suffers from autism.

When Max Yamakado was born, his mother Nina Yamakado knew something was wrong – what it was remained a mystery for nearly 4 years. “He was so sensitive to sound. He used to cover his ears and scream,” said Yamakado, now 48. “He used to eat nonfood objects – toys and sand.”

Max’s problems started when he was
just 1 year old.

“He was not responding to the usual stuff, like peek-a-boo. He was not crying much,” said Yamakado, an Ann Arbor resident, originally from Japan. “I would read him a book but he didn’t react to funny noises and had no eye contact.”

At first physicians thought Max might be suffering from trauma after undergoing open-heart surgery.

“As a mom I wasn’t sad – I was frustrated,” she said, in a heavy Japanese accent. “I knew from my gut something was wrong.” That frustration led Yamakado to clinics, hospital-provided therapies and her
local school district. Much of the advice she received led to even greater frustration – until she found a controversial solution.

Autism is a neurological development disorder that can have a wide variety of symptoms, from speech problems to extreme rigidity about routines.
While there are many theories about autism, researchers can’t pinpoint what causes the problem.

The first therapy she tried – intensive stimulation, failed miserably. 

Max only got more irritated.

“He was so sensitive to sound and smell,” said Yamakado. “I took him to flower gardens – it was annoying to him. I didn’t know.” 

Then Yamakado discovered the Autism Society of America and the work of California-based physician Dr. Ivar Lovaas.

“I heard about behavior modification therapy,” she said.The therapy uses food and other positive

reinforcements to reward desired responses and to discourage panicky expressions. After traveling to the University of California to meet with Dr. Lovaas, the Yomakados returned to Ann Arbor under the care of Dr. Luke Tsai.

“The first session, I was crying hysterically,” she said. “He was so able to understand what he was able to do. He
realized, ‘if I listen to this person, I get what I like.’”

Since that day, Max, now 21, has earned a membership in the National Honor Society at Community High School in Ann Arbor and works a fulltime
job maintaining student records at a private school.

“He’s an amazing asset for the school where he works,” said Max’s mom. “Everyone says he is the most peaceful and happy person they met. Once his behaviors were under control, he took off.”

Max’s ultimate goal is to become completely independent. Yamakado advises parents facing the same challenges to keep up their spirits. 

“This is the beginning of the possibilities,” she said. “It’s not the end of the world. If you don’t give up you will find a way to help them. You just have to find the way.”

For insight and information on behavioral modification, contact any of these Michigan facilities or practices.

Dr. Luke Y. Tsai
Adolescent and Pediatric Psychiatry
2101 Commonwealth Blvd.
Ann Arbor, MI 48105

Ann Arbor Center for Developmental
and Behavioral Pediatrics
1601 Briarwood Circle, Suite 500
Ann Arbor, MI 48108

Developmental and Behavioral
Pediatrics University of Michigan
Health System
1500 E. Medical Center Dr.
Ann Arbor, MI 48109