AUTISM PROJECT: New Center Helps Kids

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The Children's Autism Project in Altoona is expanding to another metro city to help even more kids diagnosed with the developmental disability that affects the way people communicate and interact.

Six year-old Phoenix Cretsinger likes to play. His mom Erin says, “He's full of energy and smiles and hugs."

But, playing with something as simple as Thomas the Train or a toy car hasn't always been easy. Erin Cretsinger says, "To see him driving it and making car sounds, beep beep, zoom zoom is pretty amazing for us." Erin and Sean Cretsinger say their son stopped smiling and talking when he was one. He was eventually diagnosed with Autism.

But, the Cretsingers say they noticed a change in their son when he started what's called Applied Behavior Analysis, or ABA, through The Children's Autism Project at The Homestead. Mrs. Cretsinger says, "He started changing, almost immediately, his focus. His focus was so much better. He was calmer. His sensory disorder calmed down a lot."

The Homestead’s Director of Youth Community Services Evelyn Horton says, “Applied Behavior Analysis is a science where we look at behaviors and we break it down into small pieces and teach the pieces that are missing with a lot of reinforcement."

Kids get intensive training for two and a half hours a day five days a week. The Homestead started offering ABA in Altoona two and a half years ago. Horton says, "Now two and a half years later, we've opened the door to the 2nd clinic here in Clive because we were more than overloaded in Altoona."

The new center in Clive has room for 30 to 40 kids. But, that still won't meet demand in the area. Dr. Nate Noble with Blank Children’s Development Center says, "I would say it's really the gold standard in treatment we would offer children with the spectrum disorders. Unfortunately, it's not as accessible as we would like."

Only a few places offer ABA in the state. The Homestead will open a center in Cedar Rapids this year. And, other groups are becoming approved providers. Horton says, "There is at least one in Dubuque, another one who is working on the process in Cedar Rapids and some others across the state."

The Cretsingers say they wish their son could have started Applied Behavior Analysis sooner. Erin says, “The ABA sparked this. Phoenix definitely made gains." She says they look for even more gains in the future.

The Centers for Disease Control reports one in 88 kids has Autism. The rate is even higher for boys.