The Early Autism Project on Friday invited several special guests to its new West Columbia location. On hand to welcome them and introduce Gov. Nikki Haley was 12-year-old Winston Ridley, one of the project’s success stories.
The Early Autism Project serves children and families in South Carolina with offices in West Columbia, Charleston, Greenville and Sumter. Staff members provide applied behavior analysis therapy, a widely-known treatment for all levels of autism, and family support.
Kids in the Midlands have been able to access the new Columbia-area clinic since last July. The Early Autism Project moved across the street to 3115 Sunset Blvd. and nearly tripled its clinic in size to better serve the community.
“Our organization is incredibly proud of our new, more spacious clinic that will allow us to provide more children in the Columbia area with effective, evidence-based treatment,” said Ann Eldridge, executive vice president and chief operating officer with the clinic.
“It’s a great day … when we can celebrate facilities like this,” Haley agreed.
Eldridge invited Ridley to Friday’s ribbon cutting and celebration of April as Autism Awareness Month so he could share a little about what happens at the clinic.
“(Early Autism Project) can help kids learn to talk, play with toys … and we have fun,” he said.
Ridley has been a client at the clinic since he was diagnosed with autism as a young child. He was non-verbal when he first began receiving applied behavior analysis therapy, and his parents were told he might never be in a regular classroom at school.
Today, Ridley is a sixth-grader in general education classes who earned all Bs on his report card last semester. He even plays on his church basketball team.
“As long as there are centers like this, there is help … hope and love,” Haley said. “We do know that treatment works if we can do it early.”
Early Autism Project services have been offered in South Carolina for more than a decade, and its first clinic first opened in Columbia in 2011. The local clinic was able to expand its availability with the larger facility, which is 7,800 square feet compared with the previous location’s size of just 3,000 square feet.
Kid-friendly décor, an indoor play area complete with slide and trampolines and teaching areas filled with skill-building games and books make up the clinic where nearly every child receives one-on-one attention.
Approximately 90 clients are served at the facility with 70 more given therapy at home or in school. The clinic has a staff of more than 200 clinicians including behavioral analysts, lead therapists and line therapists.
“We hope the ribbon cutting of our new clinic will bring more attention to autism and the therapeutic treatments that can help children reach their full potential and become more independent,” Eldridge said.
Before Haley left, Eldridge gave her a gift to help her promote autism awareness personally. Pink Sorbet, a local Lilly Pulitzer Via Shop in the Vista, carries Winston’s Wish scarves, and the governor now has one of her own. Proceeds from specially designed accessories go to support better understanding of children with autism in South Carolina through Winston’s Wish Foundation. Scarves are in stock at Pink Sorbet.
According to the South Carolina Autism Awareness Society, autism spectrum disorder affects more than 52,000 people in South Carolina and a total of 1.8 million Americans.
The Midlands Early Autism Project clinic is accepting new clients. Call 791-3722 or visit www.earlyautismproject.com.