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Villa Center for Autism helps James find his voice

As part of a military family, twelve-year-old James has lived in Texas, Kansas, Colorado, Ohio, West Virginia and now Virginia. He also has autism, and is nonverbal with sensory processing disorder.

Moving around the country, public schools have been a major challenge for James. Even in autism classrooms, inconsistent staffing made for a difficult learning environment on top of living in a new place. His parents felt like he was falling through the cracks. They found the Villa’s Center for Autism when James’s school recommended private placement.

“The day I came to tour, it was like worlds opened up. It felt like a big, warm hug,” said his mother Alicia.

James’s parents saw profound changes in his communication skills within just a few months of starting at the Villa. For the first time, James began willingly communicating with anyone he came across using his tablet. Now he is learning to use verbal words.

“For a nonverbal child to be comfortable enough to speak is huge,” said Alicia. “The teachers and staff at the Villa are so positive and patient with James. They’re really amazing.”

But the positive changes for James and his family didn’t stop there.

One unique aspect of the Villa’s Center for Autism is its emphasis on community-based instruction. Multiple times a week, each classroom has the opportunity to go out into the community and
engage in various learning activities, ranging from fun and therapeutic to functional and vocational. Prior to James coming to the Villa, taking him on family outings was a constant struggle.

“Now he’s going grocery shopping, going to places like Jumpology, and he loves it,” said Alicia.

Alicia also says that James and his older brother, 15, have become closer since he started at the Villa.

“Now they’re playing games together, playing outside…. they just want to be together all the time. Sometimes I actually have to separate them. They’re best friends,” she said.

James’s father has since retired from the military after 22 years of service, The family is now looking to purchase a home and put their roots down in Virginia. With a newfound sense of
stability, Alicia is hopeful for James’s future.

“Our goal is for James to be the very best James he can be,” said Alicia. “Whatever his place may be in the world, we just want him to find that and be successful in what he wants to do.”