PORTAGE, Mich. -- Parents of children with autism can often feel stigmatized and isolated, especially if they don't know what types of resources are out there. A new center in Portage is working to help, offering specialized treatment and a new kind of therapy.
A few years after Sandy Maggioli and her husband had their third son Victor, he was diagnosed with autism. They were living in Indiana at the time and couldn't find the care he needed, so they decided to start The Lighthouse Autism Centers; they've recently brought those centers to West Michigan.
By applying a very specific kind of therapy, they're helping young kids with autism reach milestones. Andrea Swabash and Bill Jones, two parents of children with autism, say that their children initially displayed behavioral issues and they had trouble communicating with them.
"It was his communication," Jones said of his 4-year-old son Sagan. "We could just tell that even though he was really strong with some things, he knew his ABC’s and could say them and all their sounds when he was really young, but he didn’t seem to want to communicate."
Both parents brought their kids to the new Lighthouse Autism Center in Portage.
"I’ve become a lot more understanding as far as what she’s dealing with and where she’s coming from and why she doesn’t do some of the things that a general 5, 6-year-old should be doing," Swabash said.
When a child starts at Lighthouse, they're evaluated to develop a custom curriculum that focuses on developing the skills they need.
"I think that you know, a lot of people might think that if your child has autism they might not be very intelligent and we kind of find that the opposite is true," said co-founder Sandy Maggioli.
Lighthouse specializes in applied behavior analysis (ABA), with a focus on repetition, one-on-one therapy and positive reinforcement.
"It’s been wonderful," Swabash says. "She is trying to communicate a lot more, which is the best."
Making a smooth transition into a full classroom is the biggest goal for parents at Lighthouse. Looking to the future, these parents have the same goals for their kids that anyone else would.
"I want her to be able to keep progressing and not let autism define her," Swabash said.
"People see it as a negative thing and it’s not negative. They can’t help it. It just makes them special," Swabash said.
The Lighthouse Center has been open since September. They currently have four kids and have the capacity to take about six more.
If your child is showing signs of autism, Autism Speaks also offers resources for families.