Get the message across

Communications program helps children with autism... get the message across
Friday, December 15, 2006 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 12:36 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Will Miles was diagnosed with autism when he was 14 months old. Now that he is 2, he and his family have found a way to cope, through the involvement of the Central Missouri Autism Project.

“We don’t know that he will ever celebrate Christmas the way other kids do,” said Will’s father, Tim Miles, 36, of Columbia. “But we have been given hope.”


Will Miles, 2, who has autism, interacts with Sarah Bennett, a Central Missouri Autism Project team leader, on Wednesday. (LYLE WHITWORTH/Missourian)

Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder that can delay social interaction and communication skills. It occurs in one of every 166 children.

Last week, Congress voted to increase government funding by 50 percent for research to identify the cause of autism. The bill authorizes $945 million to be used over a five-year period.

For the Miles family, the Central Missouri Autism Project has been life-changing.

“It’s hard. He can’t tell you he loves you,” Miles said. “But they have helped us in ways we didn’t know were possible.”

The family went through a three-week intensive program where they learned new ways of communicating with each other and in a way in which Will could participate.

“People with autism view the world differently than those without it,” Miles said. “Imagine being in a country where no one speaks your language, and then imagine being a 2-year-old in the same scenario.”

Each week a representative from CMAP visits the Miles’ home for follow-ups and additional therapy. Will and his parents learn communication techniques, such as sign language during these sessions. Will just began a music therapy class at the center.

“Will is such a gifted kid, and he gets frustrated when he can’t articulate himself,” Miles said.

The Central Missouri Autism Project began as an outreach program of St. Louis-based Judevine Center for Autism in 1991. Last year, the program served 702 families in 49 counties. It receives approximately 1,200 referrals a year.

“Not a lot of other states have a program like ours,” said Staci Bowlen of CMAP. “We have people from other states and countries who try to simulate our program.”

In appreciation for what CMAP did for his family, Miles nominated the organization to receive marketing services through Emma, a marketing company in Nashville, Tenn. According to Suzanne Norman, director of community relations at Emma, 70 nominations were submitted by clients from across the United States. Emma chose 25 nonprofit organizations that it felt would benefit from its services.

“We give the honorees an Emma account, which allows them to organize contacts, donors and volunteers so they can spread the word about their organization better,” Norman said. “We also provide them with hand-designed stationery that they can use for things like newsletters.”

“They are so focused on the kids that they have no time to market or fundraise,” Miles said about CMAP. “Emma’s services will help them do that.”

Miles found out about Emma through Shakespeare’s Pizza, an Emma client. “(CMAP) helped my son communicate, and now we can help them communicate,” Miles said. “Now when I see a smile on my son’s face as he runs down the hallway, I think what a gift from this group of people I have never met in Tennessee.”

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