Written by Savannah Jones

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — When Hope Crichigno was born, her parents were unsure that she would ever breathe on her own, let alone graduate from high school nineteen years later.

Born at merely 24 weeks, Crichigno spent the first six months of her life in the hospital and was ultimately diagnosed with severe autism by a clinic in Pittsburgh. She was told she would not be able to perform simple tasks such as speaking or walking.

Now, with the help of her parents, therapists and friends, Crichigno is preparing to walk with the Class of 2024 at University High School on May 24, defying the odds of her diagnosis.

Hope Crichigno’s mother, Sarah Crichigno, said she could not be more proud of all that her daughter has accomplished.

“Everyday life was such a struggle for so long, and to see her now find ways to learn and deal with those sensory problems that she had—problems just for example waiting in a line or being able to handle loud noises or things that would overstimulate her—to be able to sit with her peers and be acknowledged as a senior, it’s amazing,” she said.

When Hope Crichigno was first diagnosed with autism, her parents moved to Morgantown to take part in Dr. Susannah Poe’s Intensive Autism Delivery Clinic (IASD), which provided Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) therapy.

Over the course of several years, Poe, director of ABA services at the West Virginia University Children’s Neurodevelopmental Center, and her team helped Hope Crichigno learn to communicate and feed herself, among other things, forming a close relationship with her along the way as she was just the second patient of the clinic.

“I’m so proud of Hope, and I’m so happy for her parents and for the community of people who have supported her and loved her to get her to this place,” Poe said. “She is a remarkable young lady who started out with a lot of difficulties in life and has, with the help of many people in this community … become a very accomplished young woman with severe disabilities.”

Haley Johnson, a board-certified behavioral analyst and former member of Poe’s team, met Hope Crichigno nearly 10 years ago at the IASD clinic, working with her through her undergraduate and graduate careers at WVU and later in the home setting.

Johnson said working with the Crichigno family and seeing Hope Crichigno graduate from high school is one of the most rewarding parts of her career.

“It is just so special to experience this milestone with her. Seeing her grow the last ten years has been so rewarding and just an experience I’ll never forget,” she said.

Sarah Crichigno said her daughter is the strongest person that she knows, emphasizing that she is so grateful to the therapists that continued to take part in Hope’s life after her graduation from the IASD clinic, whether that be helping her get ready for the prom or encouraging her as she prepares to graduate from UHS. She also hopes that more people like Hope will have chance to use the services provided by the WVU IASD.

“They were there for all the good things through school, and we just love them as part of our family. They just have supported us—her and us—so much through her school career. It just would not be the same today without them,” she said.

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