BAXTER — When Reya Lingl was diagnosed with autism at 15 months-old — her mother, Christa Lingl, a special education teacher — knew the medical and educational needs of her daughter; but on a personal level, she was stuck.
Fast forward to 2012 — Reya is now 6 years old and flourishing.
Lingl and her husband, Jeremy, have done plenty of research over the years to improve the life of their daughter Reya. The couple, who moved to Baxter in 2005, have taken Reya to countless medical specialty clinics around the country through the years and this past June, Christa opened a new therapy center in Baxter called The Amazing Journey where Reya continues to receive therapy.
Lingl also completed the Partners in Policymaking advocacy program for individuals with disabilities and parents of young children with developmental disabilities. Lingl joined Partners in September of 2011 and is now an advocate for Brainerd lakes area’s young children with developmental disabilities. Lingl only knows of one advocate in the lakes area, who went through the process 10 years ago, and, she said, the lakes area needs to have an advocate to support young children with disabilities. Lingl said she will work to bring more resources to the area to help children with disabilities.
“My experience with Partners has been life-changing for me and my daughter,” Lingl said. “It has taught me how to advocate for her rights, education, services, medical care and much more.”
Partners in Policymaking is an eight-month leadership training program that covers the history of the disability and self-advocacy movements, inclusive education, supported living and avenues to influence county, state and federal legislative processes. The program is covered by a federal grant to the Minnesota Governor’s Council on Developmental Disabilities and is offered in almost every state and many foreign countries.
“At first I felt like I was in way over my head with all the government stuff and new laws,” said Lingl. “But I got through and it made me realize that I wanted to open a holistic-approach clinic. In order to help children with disabilities you need to incorporate everything from education, health, behavior/social aspect of their lives and we have that all under one roof here (The Amazing Journey.)”
Lingl, who was a special education teacher in Hutchinson, Milaca and Elk River, said that right before Reya was diagnosed with autism she noticed how her once healthy child was digressing downward developmentally.
“She lost her ability to speak, to walk and she would just stare at you,” said Lingl. “She lost her interest in toys and was afraid to be in a play group. Before autism she was a social butterfly. She got worse everyday.
“Autism is an attack of the central nervous system and affects everyone differently. A majority of the autistic cases have a connection to toxins in our environment, the air we breath, injest, absord or inject them into our bodies.”
Lingl said once Reya was diagnosed she dove right into treating her daughter, full force. Reya started therapy and received specialised care at prestigious facilities, such as the Sunrise Program, a behavior intervention program in Massachusetts and The HANDLE Institute in Washington, which helps people with a wide range of learning behavior and developmental issues. Reya has also seen several nutritionists and educational staff around Minnesota.
“Once things started to settle down, I finally came to the point where I knew that she was not going to die,” said Lingl. “I then went through the grieving process. One of the lead teachers at the time told me ‘It is like losing a child to death, but the good part is she is still here and you can set dreams and goals for this child. She is still beautiful.’ It helped motivate me and support me in knowing that Reya was going to be OK. There is hope out there and you need to set goals.”
And that is what Lingl did for her daughter and Reya has accomplished goal after goal. Today, Reya can walk, control her muscle movements. She can’t speak, but has a monstrous giggle and can cry. Reya communicates through sign language.
“Reya is about 90 percent recovered,” said Lingl. “Her goal is to speak. She randomly will say words here and there, but she still has a ways to go.”
Lingl said today her view on autism is: “I learned to view it as a gift. It has opened our eyes to life’s mysteries. Yes there are plenty of struggles, but we’ve found the positives and it’s beautiful ... At the clinic we say it takes a tribe to raise them (children with developmental disabilities), but to watch them succeed is rewarding.”
Lingl started a support group for families with children with developmental disabilities and anyone interested in joining can contact her at The Amazing Journey at 454-4600.