When 18-month-old Emir was diagnosed with autism in 2017, it rocked his mother’s world.
“I had no idea what to do or where to go,” recalls Sebnem Aras, co-founder of Lake Mary’s Arise Autism Center.
Doctors recommended intense Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy, about 40 hours per week, but most centers that offered the service had a waiting list of six months to a year, crucial time for a child with autism. Sebnem eventually found someone to come to her house and was soon overwhelmed with how well the therapy was helping her son. She called her friend Elizabeth Wilkerson, a 10-year veteran of behavioral analysis, and the two decided to establish their own ABA facility. Arise Autism Center’s doors opened in February.
“We are now open with immediate availability,” says Elizabeth. “We love kids and want to help the community. We want to share our passion for ABA.”
ABA is a science that utilizes motivation and the environment to increase needed skills and decrease undesirable behaviors. Elizabeth, a Board Certified Behavior Analyst, supervises the Center’s four therapists currently on staff. All therapy is conducted one-on-one. Each child’s program is custom-designed to meet their needs.
“We are not just addressing behavior at Arise, but also social skills, toleration, self-care, safety, and adaptive skills,” Elizabeth explains. “We work on language and communication because those help with challenges.”
Access to Arise Autism Center begins with a developmental pediatrician or neurologist referral. The Arise staff assesses each case and submits all necessary paperwork to the family’s insurance company. Sebnem says the therapy is almost always covered, with little or no out-of-pocket expense to the family.
The opening of a new autism center in the area is significant. According to the Centers for Disease Control, one in 59 kids is diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder.
“That’s a huge number,” says Elizabeth. “But there is a much better outlook if we catch it early enough and the child receives access to therapy services.”
Sebnem adds that because early diagnosis is crucial, parents need to pay close attention to their child’s developmental stages and have the child tested, if unsure.
“Check the milestones,” she stresses. “At six months, at 12 months. I had a feeling with Emir. He wouldn’t make eye contact or cuddle. Thank God we caught it early.”
Emir, now four, is doing well with ABA and preparing for preschool.
“We are very passionate about early intervention,” says Elizabeth. “That is what unlocks the door.”