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Holiday Program Highlights Success Of Autistic Kids At The Shafer Center

BALTIMORE (WJZ)—A holiday program highlights the small successes of children at one school for autistic children.

Gigi Barnett reports the school is growing.

The final act of the holiday program at the Shafer Center in Baltimore County was a big success.

All of the students are autistic.

For children with the disorder, communicating is a challenge; social situations are difficult.

But the students here nailed every line.

"He's got more words than he's ever had. He can answer short sentences," said Lisa Manuel, parent.

It wasn't always that way for Manuel's eight-year-old son, Burke. Doctors diagnosed him just shortly before Burke turned 2.

Manuel found the Shafer Center and enrolled her son. Now Burke is making major strides.

"I will never forget the first time that he told me that he loves me, and it's just been growing. He can tell us more about his feelings," Manuel said.

"When we were thinking about starting the center, my husband said to me, 'Can you please have all of the services in one place?'" said Helen Shafer.

Shafer founded the school in Reisterstown when her son Hayden was diagnosed. It's one of a handful of special needs schools that offer a number of services to autistic children in one location. And, every child has a tailor-made learning plan.

"Not many schools can really do that and then we build on where we see their needs," Shafer said.

"He's hugging us. He's kissing us. He's saying 'I love you.' That connection that you're looking for with your child, it's coming," said Luisella McBride, parent.

In just seven short years, the school has grown tremendously. It started out with just three students. Now it has nearly 50.  Next week, it moves to a bigger, new building to take even more students.

It's not just the parents backing the program at the Shafer Center. The number of teachers grew from two to 60 in the last seven years, as well.

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