Tulsa Crosstown Learning Center Changes Lives Of Autistic Kids
TULSA, Oklahoma - No one knows what causes autism, but, more and more kids are diagnosed with it. One program that's showing great success in treating those children is in Tulsa, but critical funding for the program has been cut.
Liam Morrow is a young boy whose life has been changed by Early Foundations - and whose mother is praying it will be there for other children.
Watching 4-year-old Liam at play is to witness an incredible transformation. It's hard to believe he's the same child.
His mother Misti says that at 8 months, Liam was a happy, babbling baby boy. Almost overnight, that boy was gone.
By the time a year rolled around, he'd quit speaking. There was no vocalization - he made no sounds, babbling, nothing like that at all.
Liam would eventually be diagnosed with autism, and an often-related condition known as apraxia, which affects muscle tone and motor skills.
The Morrows began a frantic search for help which led them to Crosstown Learning Center. Debbie Guilfoyle is the executive director.
"To have an opportunity to impact a family and child the way Early Foundations has - I don't know if there are really words," Guilfoyle said.
Early Foundations is a partnership between the University of Oklahoma and the State Department of Education to help children with autism. There are three centers in the Oklahoma City area.
Crosstown houses the first and only program in Tulsa.
Children receive one-on-one therapy for four hours a day, five days a week, starting as young as 18 months.
Early Foundations is modeled on a program developed in Seattle that Guilfoyle says has produced "astonishing" results.
About 50 percent of the children that complete the program began elementary school with little to no intervention needed at all.
Misti says the program taught Liam skills that most of take for granted. For instance, they had to teach him facial expressions. He didn't know what a happy face was as opposed to a sad face.
It also taught him how to be a child, because he really did not know how.
But one-on-one instruction is expensive. Crosstown has only nine children and a long waiting list for its program.
"My hope is that other centers will see this and say, if Crosstown can do this, so can we," said Executive Director Debbie Guilfoyle.
But that hope now hangs on a slender thread. The state legislature cut $600,000 from Early Foundations this year, and the centers have been scrambling to find funding ever since.
Having seen the transformation in her own child, Misti Morrow says she was devastated by the news.
"I literally cried," said the mother of an autistic boy who was helped by Crosstown Learning Center. "I cried for those kids. This program changed our lives."
Crosstown Learning Center is holding its annual fundraiser next Monday, November 17. It's called Old Bags, and it will help pay for their pre-school program, and other special projects, like Early Foundations.
Full disclosure - this year I am the honorary chairman.