There is new hope for a disease that affects one in 88 American children. Autism is a condition that impacts thousands of Valley families, but now there's breakthrough therapy and support available at Fresno State.
Dr. Amanda Adams director of autism center
On the Fresno State campus, among the classrooms, sports centers, and fields... is a little known treatment and research facility for autism. Its curriculum is nationally recognized and gives parents hope.
Dr. Amanda Adams is the Director of the Central California Autism Center. Dr. Adams is in charge of the behavior therapy program for children as early as 18 months.
There are thousands of lesson activities, worksheets, visual aids and more, but it's the one on one with Dr. Adams that ultimately helps manage children's behavior and gets them to a place where they can live independently. "It's the advanced cognitive skills so you get beyond just naming objects and responding to instructions. Those are pretty basic skills, but when you get into what they're thinking... there's even a lesson on lying," said Dr. Adams.
The model pulls from years and years of international research, into a user friendly package. It sounds basic but it's a breakthrough. "It's really breaking down all of the behaviors that we take for granted with typical children," said Dr. Adams.
The therapy takes place on-site, rather than at home.
The facility opened in 2007, but had only one student for the first few months. A year later, there were six students, including 5-year-old Kurtis Sweeney. His mom didn't believe he'd be able to walk into a classroom and sit still. "His way of expressing himself was to lay dead on the ground and scream until people came to pick him up and said go mom go just keep going," said his mom, Christy. She says he's night and day from when he started and getting ready for life as a teenager. "Transition is hard for him. You know autistic kids are consistently inconsistent. And we just don't know, but I think we have a lot of foundation, knowledge, help and support... We lose the center, we can get the help we need in times of not knowing what to do," said Christy.
Kurtis is graduating from the autism center and moving onto public school where he will attend special education classes.
Dr. Adams says one of the most important skills Kurtis acquired is perspective. "The most basic forms are something like, you and another child have an ice cream cone. That cone falls on the floor and they cry, sometimes they can't answer the question. So there's not an ability to see another person's perspective," said Dr. Adams.
Some children she sees fall on the lighter side of the so-called autism spectrum. They're functional, yet unable to communicate. Zeke Crowder fell into this category. We visited Zeke at home where he showed us what a bright child he is. "My favorite president is Abraham Lincoln, because he's the tallest president. And he's the one that helped free the black people," said Zeke.
Zeke is really into technology, hanging out on Google Plus, sending emails, producing YouTube videos and more. Zeke just turned 7-years-old and celebrated at Blackbeard's in Fresno. It's hard to believe today, but just a few years ago, Zeke didn't speak at all. "The words weren't coherent. You couldn't make any sense. You point and you kind of get the idea that that's what he wants. What he's trying to express," said his dad, Matthew.
Zeke was only 3-years-old when he started attending the autism center five days a week, after regular school hours. Just a few years later, Zeke is talking about going to college. "I want to go to Berkley to college," said Zeke.
Dr. Adams has no doubt that will happen for him, Kurtis, and forty other kids now under her wing. She'll continue writing a new model for training research, which she's been working towards as long as the center has been around. "We have thousands of lessons that will be taught in any one of the areas that we work with, so the assessment is quite intense," said Dr. Adams.
Dr. Adams says she's driven to do everything in her power, no matter the odds. For example, when it comes to funding behavior disorders, things get complicated. The center is primarily funded through the Central Valley Regional Center, which is a state agency. But more so now through medical insurance. There are also some donations. $10,000 was recently raised at the "Look Past the Mask" gala this winter. A Valley parent group launched the campaign to encourage the community to look past autism to see the individual.
"You know, you think you understand everything and you know how to deal with everything. But stuff like this... It's real," said one parent.
Parents in need of the center's services can click on the related link for more information.
Central California Autism Center at California State University, Fresno
Mailing Address: 2576 E San Ramon Ave Fresno, CA 93740
Physical Address: 5005 N Maple Ave Fresno, CA 93740