Meet Riley Foster

Eight-year-old Riley Foster is outgoing and funny, considerate and kindhearted. He loves to see theater productions and draw and he talks about playing games on his iPad “nonstop.”

It’s hard to believe that four years ago, Riley didn’t have any functional communication.

When Riley was 2 years old, his parents Kristin and Chadwick were referred to the Dennis Developmental Center at Arkansas Children’s Hospital where they learned Riley had autism.

“We had kind of always known that was something was different with him,” says Riley’s mom, Kristin. “Even when he was a baby, he didn’t like to be held or touched. We enrolled him in a developmental preschool with therapies when he was very young.”

Riley was in speech therapy for about 2 ½ years, but didn’t make much progress. Then, when he was a little over 4 years old, he was invited to participate in an autism research study with the Arkansas Children’s Research Institute (ACRI).

“We were really excited about participating in the study,” says Kristin. “I was somewhat skeptical, but we knew Children’s had a great reputation. And we knew it was important to find out these things.

Riley participated in an oxidative stress study for children with autism, which required him to follow a detailed regimen of vitamins and antioxidants.

“Over the course of the four months, he gained 18 months of speech,” says Kristin. “We couldn’t believe what was happening. He went from 6-month-old speech to 2-year-old speech. We were afraid when the study ended he would lose all of that speech. He maintained it and continued to develop, but he’s never had that growth like he did then.”

The Fosters then participated in a study on mitochondrial disorders related to autism. Though they didn’t see amazing results like the first study, they uncovered invaluable information about the likely underlying cause for Riley’s autism—he showed markers for a mitochondrial disorder that inhibits the body from processing certain vitamins correctly.

“As a mom, you think you did something wrong,” says Kristin. “You try to find a cause and you want it to make sense. To know what was going on with him was huge for us.”

Riley’s experience with ACRI has given Kristin and Chadwick an appreciation for research in the same way they value community service. The family, which includes Riley’s 13-year-old sister Avery, is dedicated to giving back to others. Chadwick works for CASA, or Court Appointed Special Advocates, for children in foster care in Polk, Johnson and Franklin counties, and Kristin is the executive director for River Valley Food 4 Kids program, which provides meals for 1,000 kids per week in Polk County. Riley helps his mom with the food program and has volunteered with his local Arkansas Children’s Circle of Friends chapter. And, Kristin says they still keep an eye out for studies at ACRI that Riley could take part in.

“Even if the studies don’t directly benefit us, we understand the value for kids down the line,” says Kristin. “It could impact Riley in the future or impact other kids like him. We’re big believers in research.”

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