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Holly Ridge Center gives autistic kids ‘High 5’
Dave Strobel, former owner of the Hansville Market, has seen a big improvement in his autistic daughter Ava’s skills.
That “180-degree turnaround” is thanks to Holly Ridge Center’s “High 5” program, an applied behavioral analysis.
“It is a godsend,” Strobel said.
Autism affects about 1 in 150 children born in the United States, according to Roxanne Bryson, executive director of the Holly Ridge Center on Taylor Road in Bremerton.
“Autism is a spectrum disorder,” Bryson said. “And the spectrum is very large.”
Within this spectrum are autistic disorder, Asperger syndrome and pervasive developmental disorder, according to the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.
The symptoms include problems with communication (verbal and non-verbal, including making eye contact and smiling), social problems (sharing emotions, understanding other’s feelings and holding a conversation) and routines or repetitive behaviors (repeating words or actions, obsessively following routines or schedules and playing in repetitive ways).
“Our staff worked with the University of Washington Baby DATA project to help children enhance their communication, motor and social skills,” Bryson said.
The autistic diagnosis is commonly given between the ages of 16 and 18 months, according to Bryson.
“Many people report normality until 16 or 18 months,” she added. “When symptoms begin showing, they can often be attributed to other causes.”
Such was the case for the Strobel family.
“We thought her hearing was bad,” Strobel said of Ava. “(The diagnosis) hit us really hard.”
The Strobels were on a trip to Arizona to visit David’s father when they noticed the difference.
“Ava had always been very social,” Strobel said. “She would always look right at the camera.”
Shelly Michalak, one of seven special education teachers and the resident “autism expert,” according to Bryson, said individual assistance is the key to the program.
“Working with the kids one-on-one is the key,” Michalak said. “With early intervention, 20 percent will not need special services in the future.”
Although the cause of every case is not known, 70 percent are thought to be due to chromosomal deletions, according to Michalak.
There are a few people who believe MMR shots are a possible cause due to the proximity of the shot to the discovery of symptoms, but Michalak does not subscribe to this view.
“Autism is associated with deficiencies in social, behavioral, language and cognitive skills,” Michalak said. “And these skills usually develop between 18 and 24 months.”
Because autistic children “need predictability,” Michalak said, the program’s goal is to “teach children flexibility and how to deal with changes.”
Parents are able to watch the teachers interacting with their children through one-way glass so they can learn and emulate the techniques used by the teachers.
“Families are an important link,” Michalak said.
“It is nice to watch what they are doing,” Strobel said. “There’s still a lot of work, but at least (Ava) is sitting at the table, drinking from a cup.”