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Published December 24 2012

Person of Your Year: Mom credits Moorhead woman with going ‘above and beyond’ for her child

WEST FARGO – Becky Cvijanovich noticed early on that her toddler son displayed red flags for autism spectrum disorders.

She had a hard time getting him to look at her. He always wanted to play with doors, she said.

Now, the boy is 2½ years old, and the red flags no longer wave.

And Cvijanovich gives most of the credit to Christine Soukup.

“She’s gone above and beyond what we would have expected,” she said.

Soukup, who was nominated by Cvijanovich for The Forum’s “Person of Your Year” series, has worked as an early interventionist for the Anne Carlsen Center’s KIDS Program for 12½ years.

The program provides home-based services for children from birth to age 3, with a special focus on the family.

Soukup started working with Becky and Dan Cvijanovich when their son was 18 months old. She visits their home twice a week, using and teaching techniques to help the boy develop his social and play skills and keep him from fixating on one thing for too long.

Becky Cvijanovich said Soukup went out of her way to get her son enrolled in a social skills camp last summer.

“He’s doing really well now. He doesn’t really show any red flags,” she said.

Soukup’s history of helping children with autism dates back to her high school years. While attending Minnesota State University Moorhead, she worked in group homes, often with children with autism. She holds a master’s degree in early childhood special education.

When Soukup met her now-husband, he had an 11-month-old boy who was later diagnosed with autism at age 3.

“I’ve just always really loved working with families and kids, and then now it’s just kind of grown into working with children on the spectrum and their families,” she said. “It’s been a passion.”

But it’s not just Soukup’s work with the KIDS Program that made an impression on Cvijanovich.

“She really goes out of her way to participate in the community, and she’s always helping people,” she said.

At Bethel Church in Fargo, Soukup teaches Sunday school to special needs children. The 37-year-old Moorhead mom also has been involved in several area support groups, including for families with children on the autism spectrum.

This Christmas season, she rang bells for the Salvation Army with one of her two daughters, ages 10 and 11. She and her husband, Brandon, also have a 5-year-old son.

“We usually ring the bells and try to do some stuff out in the community to teach them the importance of helping out,” she said.

Soukup is equally complimentary of the Cvijanoviches, saying they “do a wonderful job of parenting” and have opened up to the therapy, something that can be difficult for parents whose child receives an autism diagnosis at such a young age.

“I think that’s a big part of my job, is the relationships that you make with the families and being able to come in and just offer support, but then also take the ideas and things that the parents are doing, because the parents know the kids best, and just brainstorming together and really working together as a team to help just do those everyday things,” she said.

Person of Your Year

The Forum will announce its Person of the Year on Sunday. In the days leading up to Sunday, we profile five people whom readers named as the Person of Your Year.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Mike Nowatzki at (701) 241-5528

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