Eleven-year-old Levi LaRochelle was first diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome when he was eight. Asperger's Syndrome is an autism spectrum disorder.
Levi had been receiving therapy from Dr. Nelson Mañé at the Mañé Center in Tampa Florida, who is one of the most experienced doctors in this field.
Although Levi’s treatment had been successful, Dr. Mañé approached Clearwater Marine Aquarium to include Winter into his therapeutic regimen, with the hope that his experience with her would allow for enhanced results. On June 26th, 2010, Levi participated in his first of several therapeutic sessions in the water with Winter.
Kimberly LaRochelle, Levi's mother, described the experience, "I was dreading the encounter and could not sleep the night before as I knew my son Levi did not appreciate anything new, whether it is good or bad. So, there we were, about ready to get in the water with Winter for the very first time. This was "Winter", a sweet little dolphin with a disability of her own. Levi's face lit up as he saw Winter for the very first time, and his eyes danced with delight as he looked straight at her. Most amazing was the smile that spread across his face as if he had just seen his best friend”.
For a typical child, this would be a typical response, yet with Levi, because of Asperger's, smiling, looking someone in the face and the showing of emotion were all things that were extremely rare”.
Amazed at these results, Dr. Mañé started incorporating visits with Winter as a complement to Levi's already established therapy. There continue to be many small (and yet enormous) strides in Levi's emotional development. Many more smiles and many more hugs and kisses and outward gestures of emotion have emerged since that day.