By Briana Vannozzi
When 4.5-year-old Derek Gianone first started at Princeton Child Development Institute, his parents say mastering basic tasks seemed almost unreachable. But now, just a little over six months later, mom Patti Gianone said, “He’s more independent, he’s able to listen to directions and follow directions more.”
“So what we do here is we have them come in, see how he works at school and then we start home programming. And that really helps to keep consistency at home as well as at school,” said teacher Alexandra Martini.
It’s that type of intense, applied behavioral learning that parents and educators say have brought so much progress for those with autism spectrum disorder.
“There’s a much greater recognition now of the importance of early and intensive intervention and when children have access to high quality intervention many of them go on to behaviorally recover from autism,” said Autism New Jersey Executive Director Suzanne Buchanan.
New Jersey has the highest rate of prevalence in the country. One in 45 children are on the spectrum. And it’s higher for boys, with one in 28 diagnosed. Compare that to the national figure — also high — where one in 68 children has an autism spectrum disorder.
Research done at the school shows that roughly 50 percent of children who receive early intervention before the age of 5 will transition to public school. But autism spectrum disorder doesn’t end at school age.
“That’s the current crisis. There aren’t enough programs to adequately serve the adults in our communities who are afflicted with various developmental disabilities. This is a problem that isn’t going to go away,” said Princeton Child Development Institute Executive Director Gregory MacDuff.
Right now there are 28 adults between the ages of 23 and 49 learning tasks to help them function more independently. But these programs can be hard to come by.
“Our state has always been a leader in autism intervention and I encourage those in power to continue to have New Jersey demonstrate her leadership,” MacDuff said.
Because for the students and adults at PCDI, every day is Autism Awareness Day.