April marks Autism Awareness Month, and a diagnosis is now made every 11 seconds in our country. In West Virginia, less than two percent of children are receiving the evidence-based treatment they need, and that’s why it’s so important to spread awareness about the cause.
When Becky Conley’s son Bryson was diagnosed with autism at three-years-old, his doctor gave her a folder and said, “Get him some ABA therapy.”
Before attending Augusta Levy, he was attending a regular school that did some applied behavioral analysis, but not like the program at the Center. Becky said she called and talked to Kathy Shapell, the executive director, and said what her family saw was amazing. She said that’s when she knew she had to get Bryson in there. Since he started his one-on-one applied behavioral analysis therapy in July, his personality has started to come out.
“It’s just been night and day, you know, this child who wasn’t really communicating with us, who was really keeping to his self, and now he’s developed into a child with a personality, talks to us, expresses wants and needs and that kind of thing,” she said.
At six months, Elizabeth Holden knew something was different about her son Tripp. She took him for testing, and doctors at two different facilities confirmed he had autism. She said a lot of parents may push off a diagnosis, saying that the behavior is something their child will grow out of, or that they just are not read to talk.
Since early intervention is key, Tripp started the program at 18 months, and now he’s been there for one year. When he started, Elizabeth said he didn’t pay attention to anyone, was in his own world, didn’t talk, make eye contact or interact with anyone.
“Since he has started at the center, he hugs, he says hello and goodbye, he seeks out other children to play with, he wants your attention and your affection, he’s saying words, he’s communicating by pictures, he is a completely different child,” Holden said.
The ABA therapy involves 30 hours of intensive intervention each week. It thrives on intensity, one-on-one work, and parent involvement, which allows the children to have breakthrough progress, understand language and get used to daily living. It also allows the children to interact with each other in an environment of their peers.
“But there are still so many children who go without services. That’s why it’s important to, um, to recognize autism awareness month, to bring light to the enormous needs of these children and their families,” said Kathy Shapell, the executive director of the Augusta Levy Learning Center.
Next to the intensive therapy, Holden said every individual puts their heart into the kids. “Every time we walk into this building, we’re greeted by the secretary, and you know, the therapists they love on your kids. It was actually really weird to watch somebody else hug and kiss my child and give that kind of reinforcement, but it’s absolutely what they need.”
The families who attend the center said it has been life-changing. “It has been the best, THE best decision that we’ve made, and I would definitely recommend it,” said Conley.
“There’s no way to express my gratitude, and how excited I am to be a part of this group,” Holden added.
She continued, “There are not words to describe how I feel about his progress. My child is a completely different kid. Before we started this journey with Augusta Levy, I would ask myself what if he doesn’t talk?’ or what if he doesn’t learn to conform to society’s version of normal?’ and now it’s no longer if, it’s when. He will talk, and he will do these things.”