One percent of the population of children in the U.S.ages three to 17 have autism. More than 1 million Americans live with an autism spectrum disorder and it's the fastest growing developmental disability with a more than 1,100 percent growth rate. Many children with autism go to traditional schools, but there are schools that work solely with children on the autism spectrum. One of those schools is right here in Lima.
At just 18 months old, now 4 year old Drew Rosi's parents David and Lori noticed Drew wasn't like most kids. They thought drew may have a hearing problem, but their doctor had a different diagnosis.
"They said it looks like he may be on the autism spectrum and it was like whoa, what's going on, you know," David Rosi said.
The Rosi's did some research and realized drew needed applied behavior analysis therapy so about a year ago they moved to Lima from Crawfordsville, Indiana so Drew could go to school at the Center for Autism & Dyslexia. Nearly 80 students attend school at either the Lima or Findlay campus and each one is different.
"Most people like to say you've met one child with autism, you've met one child with autism," Director Susan Pneuman, said.
The school takes two approaches to teaching: small classroom instruction and what the Rosi's wanted, ABA instruction, which reinforces positive behaviors.
"It's based on positives so sometimes I'll liken my ABA therapists to Mary Poppins because they're always reinforcing behaviors they want to see increase and that includes academic behaviors as well as behaviors that might occur in communication, verbal language, fine or gross motor skills, or social skills. All of those are incorporated into an ABA program," Pneuman said.
A recent study out of California that tracked 7,000 children with autism found about 10 percent of low functioning children with the disorder outgrew most or all of their severe disabilities by their teens. The study also found with the proper therapy, many children's conditions improve dramatically over time.
"You can train the brain to learn in other areas and the younger we start to involve interventions the more likely that brain plasticity can take place. We start teaching them what we call a coax or the beginning of works like buff or ball and within a year that child may be speaking words or sentences and it's so exciting to see that happening and our families of course are so excited to see that happen," Pneuman explained.
The Rosi's say Drew's already improved since starting at the center for autism and dyslexia.
"He's been progressing amazingly. When we first got here he wasn't even talking and now he's talking and singing and reading with us with books and he goes to the dyslexia autism center and they've been working with him with the ABA therapy, applied behavior analysis, and that seems to really be helping," David Rosi, said.
Students graduate from the Center for Autism & Dyslexia at 21 years old.