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MIND Institute Helps Parents Find Right Treatments For Autism

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SACRAMENTO  (CBS13) — The numbers are rising: According to the Centers For Disease Control, 1 in 88 children is diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder.

CBS13 caught up with two families who have taken very different treatment paths, but are both happy with the results.

“When we got the diagnosis, we were devastated,” said Marisol Clark

The Clark Family’s reaction to their child’s autism spectrum disorder diagnosis is very similar to the Vestal family’s.

“You freak out,” said Caroline Vestal. “I freaked out.”

But the therapy given to each of their children is very different. Both incorporate play and parent interaction, but  the techniques have separate foundations.

Jackson Vestal’s mother started with the well-known and scientifically studied method of applied behavior analysis. It focuses on rewarding her 7-year-old’s good behavior.

“We tried ABA for four years,” she said, “and I’m not saying it didn’t help. It did help to a certain point, and then we got stuck.”

Then she found The Son-Rise Program, a more alternative approach to therapy. It sees autism as a social-relational disorder, rather than behavioral.

It focuses on joining autistic children in their repetitive behavior, letting the children be who they are, and hoping more natural social interaction follows.

“Just by stopping the previous therapy, his scores just went off the roof,” Caroline said. “All of a sudden, we have this spontaneous eye contact.”

That was something they hadn’t seen before.

Then there’s 2-year-old Josiah Clark, whose parents chose the Early Start Denver Model, which fuses together a few different therapy models, including ABA.

“After three months, it was the biggest difference, where he went from about six words in the beginning to over 70 words,” said Marisol Clark.

Two moms with different approaches to treating their autistic children. Both say they’re getting results.

“A lot of people, when they meet him, they don’t think he’s autistic,” said Marisol Clark.

One model has been thoroughly researched, the other has just one research paper.

“I don’t care if you have 50,000 research papers, or you only have one research paper from Son-Rise,” Caroline Vestal said. “You just know when it’s right.”

Dr. Sally Rogers of the UC Davis MIND Institute developed the Early Start Denver Model. She thinks parents should take research into consideration, but she also says children have different responses to different treatments.

“It’s not just science,” she said. “It’s also ‘This is a child of these parents, of this family, and what seems right to them? What’s going to fit their family style.’”

Rogers’ work at the MIND institute is always evolving. They’re currently studying whether autistic children can benefit from a regimen of primarily home-based therapy given by the parents who are taught the methods.

“I’m very worried about the 99 percent of children in the world with autism who are never going to get in the hands of a therapist,” she said.

Both parents know the amount of information can be overwhelming for parents looking for a place to turn. Marisol asked for references from other parents.

Caroline says you also can’t ignore your instincts.

“If you have the gut feeling that Son-Rise is the way, or you have a gut feeling that ABAis the way, you go for it,” she said.

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