Friday, May 9, 2008

Cracking autism's shell

Therapy clinic in demand
By Janelle Frost -

As Jay Cole yelled "ready, set, go," while holding a bright yellow ball in his hand, the children took off running to their bases, trying not to get hit by the ball.

"Run, Paige, run!" Cole said as 2-year-old Paige Pendleton ran to first base with a big grin on her face.

Paige and four other children were playing kickball with their therapists at Surfside Presbyterian Church.

The children, each with an autism spectrum disorder, attend a therapy program designed to help each child reach his or her optimum development through applied behavior analysis therapy.

The children participate with their therapists in a session five days a week at a temporary location at the Surfside Beach church.

Clinic officials are looking for a permanent location, preferably in Myrtle Beach.

Increased interest in the clinic, which began as a summer pilot program, has helped it grow into a year-round program targeted at children 6 and younger.

Officials at Surfside Presbyterian Church have donated the space for the clinic, which is the only one of its type in the Grand Strand, said Cole, the clinic's director.

He said the next nearest is in Spartanburg.

The area's clinic is a partner with SOS Health Care Inc. and is funded through private grants, the United Way of Horry County, civic clubs, churches and individuals, SOS officials said.

Half of the children attend a morning session and the other half attend in the afternoon. The therapy is individualized for each child.

Paige has been in the therapy since her second birthday, according to her grandmother, Pat Bernhard.

It was "a year or more earlier than when people get therapy because they don't want to diagnose them that early," Bernhard said. "I can't believe how far she's come in four months."

Bernhard said Paige went from not speaking and responding when her name was called to saying 15 to 20 words and doing sign language.

According to the National Institutes of Health, most children know about 50 words at 24 months of age.

"The goal is to teach kids to the extent where they can go into kindergarten like any other child," Cole said. "Two to 6 years old are the primary ages to benefit from ABA therapy."

Applied behavior analysis therapy is a nonmedical treatment commonly used to help autistic children.

Through therapy, skills are broken down into smaller pieces to teach autistic children everything from language skills to how to play appropriately with toys to being potty-trained.

The behavior is reinforced, and the child is rewarded for the progress.

Cole said the clinic specifically deals with autism because research shows the effectiveness of ABA therapy with autistic children.

Twenty-five people applied for their child to attend the 10-week-long ABA therapy clinic this past summer, but there was space for only 14 children to participate.

A lottery system was used to select the children.

The goal was to have the clinic every summer, but there was an overwhelming response from parents to do it year-round, said Cole, who was a consultant with Horry County Schools' ABA program.

Now there are 11 children in the program, he said - including 5-year-old Drew Putnam.

Alissa Smith said her son Drew, who was diagnosed in 2005 with autism, started out talking and just stopped one day.

Since being in the program, he has gone from saying baby words like popcorn to saying complete sentences such as "Mommy, I want some popcorn," Smith said.

"I strongly believe after all these years of trying everything, ABA helps my son," she said.

No comments: