For most families with young children, hitting certain milestones, such as saying their first words and potty training, are expected and even taken for granted. However, for families with children on the autism spectrum, these accomplishments are considered victories.

Nicole Newsom says her son Carson began showing signs of what she suspected was autism when he was 18 months old.  After waiting nearly a year for an appointment in Louisville, Carson was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder.

“They recommended ABA Therapy for Carson,” said Newsom.  “However, that type of specialized therapy wasn’t available anywhere close to where we live.”

Little did they know, the Appalachian Valley Autism (AVA) Center was in development and close to opening. Carson was one of the first Learners enrolled in early summer of 2020.

“Before he started at the AVA Center, Carson was not saying any words,” said Newsom. “He would lead us to the kitchen for snacks or to the refrigerator for milk.  It was a guided thing, but there were no words,” said Nicole.

“Carson found his words just a few short weeks after going to the Ava Center,” she explained through tears.  “His dad sent me a video, and it was a video of him saying, ‘My name is Carson’.  Those were words we thought we would never hear.”

Nicole and so many other families with children on the autism spectrum say autism has taught them to appreciate all the little victories in life that are so easily taken for granted.

“Carson recently turned five and now has a growing vocabulary,” she explained.  “Carson has blossomed, and it seems like there is a new word every day. However, the biggest win for me was hearing the words every mother longs to hear, ‘I love you, Mommy.'”

The AVA Center is the first comprehensive center of its kind in Eastern Kentucky to offer Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), Speech, Occupational, and Feeding therapies for children on the Autism Spectrum.  The demand for these specialized services has been more than anyone expected and has changed lives for so many like Nicole and Carson.

“I think the biggest thing I have learned out of this is trusting God’s timing,” added Nicole. “As a mom, you want to fix everything and I was not able to fix what Carson needed. But, God gave us the AVA Center to help us.”

Since opening in May, The AVA Center has quickly expanded from Phase I to III.  The Center is looking ahead and working on Phases IV and V to meet the overwhelming demand for services to benefit families and children with autism.