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New Tri-City autism program aims to help parents

Tri-City Herald - 9/18/2017

Sept. 17--Communicating with a child can be difficult in the best of circumstances. Bring autism into the conversation, and it can introduce a bevy of new challenges.

Autistic children struggle with language, reading social cues and interacting with people more than other children.

A new program at the Children's Developmental Center in Richland aims to help parents bridge that gap in the earliest years of a child's life. Last week, officials celebrated the start of their first group of six students involved in the applied behavior analysis program.

It's the fourth program of its kind in Eastern Washington, according to advocacy group Autism Speaks. The center began providing services to children with learning delays about 40 years ago.

"There is quite a range, from just having some social deficits to having significant deficits in social, communication, behaviors and academics," said Cathryn Tames, the center's executive director.

Each autistic child has different ways of learning and their own pace, said Haylee Carnes, the lead teacher for the program.

"They say, 'Once you've met one child with autism, you've met one child with autism,' " she said.

Research indicates the earlier that autistic children start learning, the better their outcome, Carnes said.

The trick to teaching children with autism is determining how to reward them. Positive reinforcement is one of cornerstones of learning.

Carnes, the technicians and parents work together to figure out what motivates the child, using some of their favorite things to reinforce good behavior. The programs can help the preschool children learn life skills like using the toilet, washing their hands and tying their shoes.

A number of studies show comprehensive analysis programs can show significant improvements in learning, reasoning, communication and adaptability.

But they take a lot of time. Each child and parent start out spending two hours a day with a technician, and meet with Carnes at least once a week. The program is then tailored to the child.

"That's why it's so successful," Carnes said. "You're able to focus on that child for two hours a day. The program is very personalized to the child and the family."

The goal is to best prepare children to enter school.

"This was a gap that we identified quite a while ago, and it's just taken us some time to fill it," Tames said. "It's been on our radar for several years."

The process to put the program together started about a year ago after Carnes received her certification to run the program. They visited two similar programs, one in Yakima and the other in Bremerton, purchased supplies and remodeled a room with the help of sponsors.

Tames said they hope to expand the program.

Cameron Probert: 509-582-1402, @cameroncprobert


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