She stands on a stage in Downtown Oklahoma City at the Cox Convention Center; looking out upon a sea of red jackets, waiting for that magic moment when she will be rewarded with a ribbon for the dedication and hard work that went into creating a skirt and accessories from an umbrella.
The staff, faculty and members of the Oklahoma Family Career Community Leaders of America, FCCLA, assembled in the Cox Convention Center would never truly know what a feat it was for the 15-year-old girl to compete in local, district, regional, and state levels. Just nine months earlier, she was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome.
Kammie Baker was weeks from turning 15 when she was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) that is characterized by significant difficulties in social interaction alongside restricted and repetitive patterns of behavior and interests.
Throughout her life she had difficulties with separation anxiety, general anxiety, anger, maturity, making-and-keeping friends, depression, and social cues.
At the tender age of 4, she started treatments, visiting one mental health specialist after another, including behavioral health rehabilitation specialists, psychologist, counselors and even spent time in residential and day treatment. After every visit in a treatment facility she seemed to emerge with another acronym to add to the already abundant bowl of alphabet soup of diagnoses.
Over the ten or more years of treatment, Kammie has been diagnosed with Sensory Processing Disorder, Attachment Disorder, Major Recurring Depression, Attention Deficient Hyperactive Disorder, Oppositional Defiance Disorder, and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. All which present themselves at various times in an Aspie’s life but are not consistent and therefore not a true diagnosis. Aspie is a term of endearment frequently used for an individual with Asperger’s Syndrome.
In 2007, Kammie’s family moved to a farm with horses. One afternoon, she had a “fit” and disappeared. Her parents went searching for her only to find her in the pasture, arms tightly wrapped around the neck of Moriah, the 26-year-old mare. Her blood pressured had assumed normal levels and the anxiety had vanished. It was then her parents realized the importance of equine therapy.
In the summer of 2011, weeks prior to her diagnosis, her family learned of an equine therapy center just a mile away. After many discussions, the center and her family entered into an agreement that Kammie and her horse, Chance, a Tennessee Walker, would be a therapy team. They would be the center’s first rider-and-horse-owner combo.
The trainer not only would teach her to ride on an experienced horse, but would also teach Kammie to train Chance. A horse, who just months prior, Kammie’s family had rescued in Winnie, Texas.
Kammie learned to work Chance in the round pen doing ground work, ground driving and riding. Through her lessons she has learned patience, confidence, how to read cues and most importantly how to keep calm in a stressful situation; which in turn has fostered her growth socially. “The change in Kammie is remarkable, she has confidence and is learning how to pay attention to what is going on around her” said Linda, Kammie’s grandma.
In her first year of high school, she ran for FCCLA Secretary at both the local and district levels and won. She also competed at the local, district and regional levels winning first place ribbons with a skirt and accessories made from an umbrella in the category, “Recycle and Design.” Those first place ribbons led her to that magic moment on stage at the Cox Convention Center in Oklahoma City.
Now, as she begins her sophomore year at Yukon High School. She is continuing as Chapter and District FCCLA secretary; preparing for a second year competing; considering running for an Oklahoma State FCCLA office and has broadened her horizons, joining other student organizations like Leadership and Partner’s Club, a club for students who help their peers whom are competing in Special Olympics. She has also earned her driver’s license and has a part time job.
It has only been a year since Kammie’s first equine therapy session but she continues to progress and there is light at the end of the tunnel. She now has dreams of attending college and someday teaching special education.
Her family tributes her progress and success to a trainer who had the initiative to take a leap of faith on a girl and a horse; a horse whose only aspiration in life is to please and the unconditional love and relationship between a girl and her horse.