Autism Early Intervention Program expanded

JACE Kirby is much like any other three-year-old boy – he loves to run, jump and eat ice cream.

However, autism had taken away his ability to interact meaningfully with people.

An innovative South Australian program is changing that, bringing speech, hugs, smiles and even bubbles into Jace’s life.

His Port Pirie family of five is the first to go through the recently expanded Autism Early Intervention Program now operating from a house at St Marys.

Jace’s mother Rebecca Blight, 32, said before the program Jace could only say about 10 words.

“He knew words like mum or dad, but he would just randomly say them,” Ms Blight said.

“Now he’s hugging me and calling me ‘mum’ and pointing purposefully at things.

“By his second day of therapy, he said his first new word: ‘bubbles’,”.

“Now, he’s saying a new word every second day. It’s been so emotional for us.”

Flinders University established the program in 2003 and has helped around 25 children a year.

Last month, not-for-profit organisation Inclusive Directions took over the program and hopes to double the number of children it helps annually by relocating it to St Marys with access under the National Disability Insurance Scheme.

Jace was diagnosed with autism when he was two after his mother and father — truck driver Karl Kirby, 37 — noticed problems.

“Between 12 and 18 months, the things he had learnt were disappearing fast. He stopped waving, then he stopped smiling, then he stopped looking at people,” Ms Blight said.

Jace started speech and occupational therapies, but his family jumped at the chance to be the first family through the program at St Marys.

Inclusive Directions chief executive Jocelyn Graham said the program had proven benefits.

“The evidence tells us children going through our program have increased learning rates, increase in IQ, decrease their symptoms, huge improvements in their social skills and adaptive behaviours and better academic and schooling outcomes,” she said.

The program costs $16,000 and may be fully funded under the NDIS.

Bec Blight and Karl Kirby with sons Aiden, 8, Jace, 3, and Leo, 10 months. Picture: NAOMI JELLICOE