LA CROSSE, Wisconsin (WXOW) - Thousands of families have children diagnosed with autism.
As the number of diagnoses continues to rise, local facilities and specialist are extending their resources, and a helping hand.
Like the Chileda Institute in La Crosse.
"I just believe in this place," said president and CEO Ruth Wiseman. We are a needle in a haystack for so many families."
Chileda's model is to care for young adults diagnosed with development disabilities. Wiseman understands first-hand the need for the facility.
Her son Jason was two and a half when he was diagnosed with autism.
"We knew from a very young age that Jason had developmental problems," Wiseman said. "So, from four months on, we started seeking information from our physicians. By the time he got the diagnosis, we were actually glad for it because that allowed him to get into school."
"It was a mystery though, because back when Jason was diagnosed, it was one child in every 10,000 kids (who were diagnosed)," Wiseman said.
A diagnosis much more common today.
The Center for Disease control asked 100,000 parents nationwide whether their child is on the spectrum.
Based on the results, from 2011-2012, an estimated one in every 50 school aged child (ages 6-17), had autism. Back in 2007, the number was estimated to be one in 86 children.
"Jason's biggest delay, or biggest challenge, was that he was self-injurious," Wiseman said. "He started injuring himself at a very young age. When he was eight months old, he started hitting himself with his fist in the crib, which is a very odd thing."
"That was the most troubling for us. The autism was something we felt we could handle, but when your child's hitting himself with their fist, then you really have an issue," Wiseman said. "Our job was to keep him safe."
Mercy Hospital Autism Center's Behavioral Specialist Alyson Beytien raised three boys with autism and now shares ways to provide support to anyone on the spectrum.
"These kids progress, they improve, they gain skills," Beytien said. "Do they all gain skills that send them to college? No. But every single one of them will make progress if we get everybody focused on ensuring that they make progress."
Thursday night, Beytien gave an informational session called "What do I do Tomorrow?" at the University of Wisconsin – La Crosse.
The discussion outlined the keys to supporting a child with autism.
And that means doing what's best for your child, even if the decision is hard. Like Ruth and Jason.
When Jason was 12, Wiseman sent him to Chileda. The family lived in Florida at the time.
"I always say (Jason) was a child that was trapped in a body that didn't work…his self injury was so significant that we couldn't keep him safe anymore," Wiseman said.
Jason progressed for six months at Chileda, until he unexpectedly died at age 13.
Even after all the testing, Wiseman said she'll never know the cause.
"Thankfully we believe, you know, that he's okay now. We have a strong faith and I think that's what makes all of this possible."
As CEO of Chileda, Wiseman hopes to help as many children as she can in her tenure.
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