Bay Area to become home of autism center

February 21, 2008 8:07:48 PM PST
Silicon Valley is about to become home to a unique pediatric center dedicated to diagnosing and treating autism and other serious developmental disabilities.

The center will be the first of its kind in Northern California.

Robert Stark is 11-years-old, but his mother says his behavior will probably never reflect his age.

"At one point we didn't know if he would get past two or three and now he's up to four or five years old," said Robert's mother Kathleen King.

Kathleen says critical years were lost because her son didn't get an early diagnosis and treatment.

That's often the case with autism as well, a disorder associated with delayed speech.

"They often have difficulty expressing their emotions often seem very isolated and shy," said pediatric neurologist Mark Koukkari.

"One is every 150 children will be diagnosed with autism, it's an epidemic," said Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D) San Jose.

The problem and search for solutions got a huge boost today.

High tech company cadence design systems announced it's annual million dollar fundraiser will benefit the may institute which is a leader in addressing autism and developmental disabilities.

Five thousand square feet of space in Los Gatos will be transformed into a comprehensive pediatric specialty center.

"Families can come in and really receive the specialist care they need, the very effective treatment services they need all in one place," said Heidi Howard from the May Institute.

The Pediatric Specialty Center will be located at the Mission Oaks Campus of Good Samaritan Hospital. The goal is to have the center open by the end of the year.

Five-year-old Mia O'Farrell is one of the institute's success stories.

"The initial year of intervention with the right program that came though the May Institute just turned her life around and returned her to our family," said Mia's father Michael O'Farrell.

Robert didn't have the benefit of early therapy that might have made a difference in his development.

It's one reason why Kathleen has worked so hard on a project now embraced by cadence and the community.

"We got involved in this because it's a way to say if I can't totally make it better for my own child, can I do something for other children," said King.