Center offers comprehensive care for autistic children

Parents feel like "part of the team" when it comes to the care and education of their autistic children at a new all-encompassing treatment center in Irvine, a parent said.

"Not just him, but our whole family has changed," Irvine resident Sopheap Keo said of her 7-year-old autistic son, Evan. "When I drop him off here, he's happy. He sees the doors and goes running — he doesn't even wait for me. Before, at the public school, they had to pull him away from me."

Evan, who is severely autistic, now shows great enthusiasm in his effort to communicate using words because of the attention he has received, Keo said.

Keo credits the Kids Institute for Development & Advancement (KiDA), a multidisciplinary and comprehensive care center for youth ages 2 to 18, which opened in a 50,000-square-foot facility Jan. 2 at 17861 Von Karman Ave.

The facility brings together speech, occupational, behavioral, music and social therapies, medical and research services, full-time kindergarten- through eighth-grade classes, and a wellness center.

The center includes a movie theater and hair salon specific to the needs of autistic children.

An open house and grand-opening event are planned for 4 to 6 p.m. Feb. 23.

"What the typical day looks like for a lot of families with an autistic child is visiting a series of facilities for school, therapy, treatment and more," Kristin Coates, KiDA spokeswoman, said last week.

Families can spend about 40 hours a week at nearly a dozen different appointments with doctors, dietitians and therapists, she said.

"It leads to a lot of stress for the parents and the child," Coates said. "Especially for a child with autism, that's a lot of sensory input to process."

Those miles and hours logged by a family taking an autistic child from one appointment to another can impede treatment, she said.

"They have all these different types of needs, and the public doesn't know just how draining it is on the family," Coates said. "That's why we're here."

The sensory overload of a public school and its effect on Costa Mesa resident Kristi Munro's son led her to KiDA.

"For him, the traditional model caused damage," Munro said of her 7-year-old autistic son, Billy. "The daily drills and inability to let a child catch up to the teacher's directions would cause him to just shut down. Now, I see him reaching out, responding to the teacher, being mischievous, all the things a 7-year-old boy should be doing."

Billy was enrolled at KiDA about two years ago. He now sleeps well, interacts with others and is learning to use words on an iPad, Munro said.

"My baby is the most import thing to me," Munro said. "They were really able to meet us at where he was, and I could see the desire in their hearts to provide an environment that was healthy, but also where he can be a kid. Autism doesn't mean that the child is not a child."

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