On November 19 the Augusta Levy Learning Center in Wheeling celebrated its first graduating class. The group consisted of six boys who began their work at the center at different levels and with varying strengths and needs.
The Levy Center, located in North Wheeling, is the only research-based autism school in the state of West Virginia. Since its founding in 2005, the center's graduations have been celebrated on an individual basis. As one child has completed his work at the center, he has been successfully transitioned to an area school. This year, all six boys completed their highly individualized curricula at the same time, enabling them to graduate together as a class.
Each of the six graduates, Caden Anthony, Holden Anthony, Jakob Bedway, Bruno Schiappa, Christian Seladoki and Kyle Simala, has grown exponentially since starting the Levy Center's program, according to Kathy Shapell, school founder and executive director. Two-thirds of them were nonverbal when they enrolled in the Levy Center's program; now, all of them can communicate. Each displayed unique learning needs; now, all of them are reading or beginning to read, all are doing math and learning to write. All are learning to interact with peers.
Autism is a neurodevelopmental disability that affects an individual's ability to communicate, to learn in typical ways, and to socially interact. The latest statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention maintain that autism now affects 1 in every 91 children in the United States.
The graduation was a celebration of accomplishment and of hope.
"Many of our parents were told that there was no hope for their child when they got their diagnosis," Shapell said. "The truth is, however, that all of these children are living proof that there is hope for children with autism."
The Levy Center has successfully transitioned 77 percent of the students it has served, and remarkably, over two-thirds of them are now attending regular education classes.
It is a combination of things that enabled the boys to graduate: hour after hour of research-based intervention, world-class consultation by the Lovaas Institute, exceptionally skilled and dedicated instructors, and committed and involved parents, Shapell said.
A successful transition from the Levy Center's one-on-one program to a typical classroom can take months and requires the coordination and collaboration of other area schools. The cooperating schools for the graduates' transitions were Ohio County Schools, Brooke County Schools, Indian Creek Schools, Harrison Hills Schools and Wheeling Country Day School.