School helps autistic students

School helps autistic students
Noah has made remarkable progress.
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Updated: .

Anne Marie Tiernon/Eyewitness News

Indianapolis - A high-profile couple is putting autism in the spotlight.

Rodney and Holly Robinson Peete are appearing at a Black History Month event Friday night at Martin University.

Rodney is a former NFL quarterback. Actress Holly starred in "21 Jump Street" and "Hangin' with Mr. Cooper." The couple has four children. One has autism.

"There is light at the end of the tunnel. I think that is the biggest thing we want to convey to parents out there after you dried your eyes and stopped feeling sorry for yourself and sorry for your family, it's time to jump in with both feet," said Rodney Peete.

"There is so much they can do and we always focus on what they cannot do, but there is a lot they really can do so we need to start learning to speak their language instead of trying to conform them to our social standards," said Holly Peete.

Local school specializes in autism

A north side school specializes in autistic students. Nationwide, autism impacts one in 150 children. In Indiana the ratio is worse, believed to be 1 in 133 children. It's four times more likely in boys than girls.

Verbal Behavior Center for Autism offers small, intense classes. For one local family, the therapy is making life at home better.

Ten-year-old Noah affectionately gives his therapist a hug. He's come a long way.

"No eye contact, no affection, no hugging at all. You'd hug him but it was just like hugging a pillow," said Wendy Medley, Noah's mother.

Diagnosed with autism around his second birthday, for Noah, communicating has been difficult.

Therapist Melanie Shampo says she's trying to teach Noah to articulate his words better.

Autism is a disorder that impacts a child's social, emotional, and behavioral development.

"We tried a lot of different things but we have found that this intense one-on-one therapy is absolutely the best thing for Noah," said Medley.

Noah spends eight hours a day at the Verbal Behavior Center for Autism,  in one-on-one in therapy.

"When we first stared here they did a taping of him and I found it the other day. It is amazing, amazing. He had no language. He never said mom. He never said, 'I love you.' Nothing. He had no language. He would sit and take a train on, put it on his track and just run it back and forth in front of his eyes," said his mother.

Now he's up and active, responding as many as 400 times a hour.

"Keep your therapy session about the same speed as you'd have a normal conversation so that they get used to having everything really fast paced so that when they do have a conversation to respond to you," said Shampo.

"Some of our kids, if we catch them early enough, get intense, get a good program, get a good therapist, they can make it into the mainstream," said Dr. Carl Sundberg, VBCA lead behavior analyst. "We have kids are now in the school system. And then we have some kids that aren't going to make it but their lives are better and that is what it's about."

To keep up with demand, the VBCA just moved into a new center on the north side, doubling capacity for students who like Noah.

Learn more about VBCA