CTAC offers alternatives for people with autism


by JIM BERGAMO / KVUE News and photojournalist Kenneth Null

Bio | Email | Follow: @JimB_KVUE


Posted on May 1, 2013 at 6:31 PM

Updated Wednesday, May 1 at 6:41 PM

AUSTIN -- The Centers for Disease Control estimates one-in-88 children have been identified with an autism spectrum disorder. That's a stunning 78 percent increase over the last decade.

April was National Autism Awareness month. Those who work closely with the disorder say autism awareness is key since the numbers show autism is the fastest growing developmental disability in the country.  

Three-year-old Evan looks, sounds and plays like any boy his age. But before he turned a year old his mother noticed some things that just didn't seem normal. One being Evan seldom made eye contact.

"There was no gaze," said Melissa Wernersbach, Evan's mother.

Evan also never seemed to respond when someone called his name.

"You would say Evan, Evan, and he would be completely in his own universe," said Wernersbach.

Her years as a first-grade teacher helped Wernersbach recognize the warning signs that her own son may have autism.

The neuro-biological disorder can manifest itself in three areas, behavior analysts say.

"Behavior, we look at repetitive and ritualistic behavior," said Kelle Rich, M. Ed, a board certified behavioral analyst. "Communication, significant communication delays and significant social deficits."

Rich says it's a disorder that is four times more likely to affect boys than girls. Stanford researchers were able to look inside the frontal lobe of a seven-year-old boy with autism. They found abnormal light patterns showing neurons had connected back to themselves and other neurons.

Rich started the Central Texas Autism Center because she says just teaching autistic kids academics and to read isn't enough.

"If I could just get them to sit and listen to communicate with me, I could teach them a lot more," said Rich.

Evan has been attending the Central Texas Autism Center for six months. All the therapists who work here are board certified. That allows CTAC to specialize in children who who lack proper verbal skills.

"We try to give him more language by teaching him the names of things, so he has access to everything in his environment as opposed to only being able to point or say, 'Have it,'" said Samantha Mahool, Evan's therapist.

The goal is to help an autistic child reach the level of his peers.

"Evan's use of language has blossomed literally overnight," said Wernersbach. "He's gone from a child of few words to full sentences with meaning. 'Good morning mommy. How are you today?' That was a big one."

Wernersbach is hopeful the early intervention and the therapy Evan's received at CTAC will result in him thinking and acting like any other kindergartner when he gets that age, and he won't require any special ed training at the school he attends."

Wernersbach says unlike other therapies he's received, the Central Texas Autism Center charts Evan's progress and presents that data in written form; something she says is critical when presenting information to schools.

Click here to visit the Central Texas Autism Center.