Today Nicole Luerinda is a happy, well adjusted six-year-old. Several years ago at the age of two, a diagnosis of autism nearly devastated her family.
"My daughter has been my motivation. She has taught us so much. It was very sad to get a diagnosis like that. Instead of crying about it like I did for a long time, I want to be proactive."
A family doctor, Luerinda started an organization called "Brilliant Minds" for children just like Nicole.
“I was so happy to be able to afford Nicole's very expensive therapies that I felt and meet so many other moms that could not pay for these therapies, so I started a non-profit organization in which we could fundraise and create scholarships for kids that could not afford the treatment and reduce the cost by more than 50 percent.”
At Brilliant Minds, Nicole spends 10 hours a week in an advanced program.
"With this approach we have amazing results on teaching them how to communicate."
Gina Ballone, a behavior analyst for seven years, works with Nicole on conversational skills. They work with social scripts using puppets.
“I think a lot of people don't understand that just because a child doesn't have vocal language they think they don't understand. They understand every thing you say. They just can't verbally communicate it."
Nicole's success is an example of early intervention. Research shows that the most effective significant outcomes occur when you start with children as young as two.
"I want her (Nicole) to get to the maximum of her potential. A lot of these kids are very bright. You just have to find, take all that out and bring them into our world. I want her to have a job and be happy and maybe work for Brilliant Minds when I retire."
Brilliant Minds is sponsoring a national conference February 24 and 25 at the Emerald Coast Conference Center in Fort Walton Beach. For more information, you can check the Brilliant Minds website at www.brilliantminds.org.