Walking in the Northpark Mall is something that some people do for exercise, but a group of people will be walking for more than exercise this weekend.

Walking in the Northpark Mall is something that some people do for exercise, but a group of people will be walking for more than exercise this weekend.

Cooper’s Troopers, a team made up of Cooper Hestand, 4; mom Hannah Kaufmann; dad Mike Hestand; brother Brady Hestand and sister Gracie Hestand; other family and friends will be among the dozens of walkers at the fifth annual Walk for Autism Awareness, a fundraiser for the Freeman Health System’s Ozark Center for Autism.

The event starts at 7 a.m. Saturday with registration at the Northpark Mall’s J.C. Penny Court. Walking starts at 8 a.m.

The Center, which has been around for more than five years, provides specialized therapy for children diagnosed with disorders on the autism spectrum.

Cooper’s mom, Hannah Kaufmann, Joplin, said Cooper, who was diagnosed with autism about two years ago, has made great strides since starting to attend the Center in September, 2011.

“Cooper has a team called Cooper’s Troopers,” Hannah Kaufmann said. “We have friends, we have family members, he has little bracelets that he’s selling for the Walk. All the donations will go directly to the school.”


A little loner

Two years ago, Cooper Hestand should have been entering his “terrible twos,” a time when small children who have learned to walk and are learning to talk start testing their boundaries.

Cooper’s mom, Hannah Kaufmann, Joplin, said Cooper was doing none of that. He couldn’t talk, he couldn’t walk and potty training, a right of passage for many children, was just a dream.

“He was just kind of a little loner,” Hannah Kaufmann said. “He didn’t have any little friends and he didn’t have any interaction with other kids.”

And the family was getting no answers from their pediatrician.

“His first original pediatrician she denied Cooper had any developmental disorder,” Hanna Kaufmann said. “She said he was just a stubborn little boy with a speech delay and she wouldn’t seek anything beyond that. That was her diagnosis and there was nothing else. Whenever we switched pediatricians, the new doctor sent him to a specialist immediately and he was diagnosed immediately.”

Cooper was diagnosed with pervasive developmental disorders, nonverbal autistic.

This meant the family finally had some idea of what they were dealing with, but how to deal with it was still a monumental challenge.

The autism diagnosis in general, it was a complete shock, it was horrible,” Hannah Kaufmann said. “It took at least a year for it to sink in, but now that we’ve educated ourselves on the disorder and the diagnosis, he’s just growing so well and learning so much better now. He’s been in a couple of other schools before the Ozark Center and he had no progress at any of those schools.”


A new beginning

The family knew it would take specialized education techniques to let Cooper have any chance at a normal life, and time was running out.

Hannah Kaufmann research autism on the internet and knew the earlier they could begin therapy, the better chance Cooper had of learning to lead something close to a normal life.

The family was introduced to Applied Behavioral Analysis Therapy when a specialist from Freeman Health System worked with Cooper for about six months at his pre-school, so they applied for the Ozark Center for Autism.

Cooper was accepted in September 2011 and Hannah Kaufmann said the change has been exceptional.

“Since he’s been at the Center, everything has changed dramatically, including the way he is at home,” Hannah Kaufmann said. “Two weeks ago he started verbally talking at the school. He has five words right now, and he didn’t have any before. It’s been amazing. It’s the sweetest sound in the world to hear him talk. He’s growing leaps and bounds with interacting with kids and it’s showing at home with the way he interacts with his brother and sister. It’s completely different now. He plays with the other kids. Everything is better.”