UofL Autism Center Provides Hope, Progress

Sporting bright yellow shades to match his neon colored shirt, five-year-old Xavier Taylor quickly sprinted toward the door of the University of Louisville Autism Center, all the while smiling.

You wouldn’t suspect it by looking at him or speaking with him, but the affable, energetic child was diagnosed with autism at the age of three. Since April 2011, he’s been attending the UofL Autism Center at Kosair Charities, a facility that has changed the lives of Xavier and his family.

“I got the diagnosis on his third birthday,” said Xavier’s mother, Kamilla, as she watched her son work with a psychologist at the center. “I knew in my heart when he was about 18 months. I mean he was on the path (to development), but kind of just stopped. So I just started researching what steps to take, and it landed us here.”

Kamilla’s persistence in the application process was rewarded with a spot at the center after First Steps, an introductory program for parents and caregivers of children who have recently been diagnosed with autism, suggested she look into the organization.

The UofL Autism Center, located off East Burnett Avenue, has become an exclusive facility that sees around 400 families, while covering nearly 3,000 services each year. The center provides extensive speech and language therapy to help children diagnosed with autism improve their ability to communicate with the world around them. Pediatricians, psychologists, speech pathologists and occupational therapists work with children, sometimes inside a room with a double-sided mirror so that family or a caregiver can observe. Each session with the therapist is also taped to note progress and problem areas.

Since working with a speech pathologist and meeting with psychologist Dr. Kasey Wilson, Xavier’s learning and behavior has improved dramatically, and the issues of the past have gradually been resolved.

“He used to be afraid of groups of people; he’d clam up. That was some of the reason I knew (he was autistic) too,” Kamilla said. “(His sister) had a program at school, and we had to walk in the classroom. He was like two and he just sunk into me and couldn’t look out at people. He didn’t do very well (then), and now he doesn’t meet a stranger.”

In a year’s time, Xavier’s transformation has been incredible. Through twice-a-week, 45-minute sessions at the center, he’s blossomed socially and thrives off the praise he receives from his family and doctors. His mother’s dedication to helping him overcome his disability has also been crucial to his impressive improvement.

“She gives me a lot more credit than she gives herself,” Dr. Wilson said of Kamilla. “A lot of it is because she’s taken what we’ve done in therapy, she’s taken it home and she’s implemented the exact same thing at home, and I think that’s the biggest piece for his progress right there. … If she hadn’t sat in on the sessions and learned to do the things we were doing here and taking it home, I don’t think he would have made nearly as much progress. She needs to pat herself on the back too.”

Xavier is currently attending a school in the Jefferson County Public Schools system, though he’s now on summer break. Once extremely shy, he has grown to love his time in the classroom and has improved his report card. He also cherishes each visit to the Autism Center, which is evident by the huge smile spread across his face and infectious laugh heard throughout his session with Dr. Wilson.

“He enjoys it, he looks forward to it, he wants to come,” Kamilla said. “And the best thing is he understands when he’s gotten something. … I’m amazed because I’m his mother, I’m with him day-to-day everyday. People on the streets are like, ‘I can’t tell he’s got (autism).’ Yeah, he does, and trust me this is with a lot of work that we’ve gotten to this point. (We’ve been) very dedicated to developing him socially and academically and emotionally.”

It’s because of Kamilla and the Austism Center that Xavier’s been given a new chance at life. Though diagnosed with a disability, neither he nor his family have allowed it to prevent him from experiencing the life of a normal five-year-old boy. It took hard work and determination, but in a year, Xavier has proven that it was well worth the initial struggle to find a source for help.

“I have a tendency to get emotional when I start talking about him because, like I said, a lot of sleepless nights, a lot of praying, a lot of wanting some guidance and direction,” Kamilla said. “I just want him (to be) a productive member of society and to be able to take care of himself, know right from wrong and do wisely. They’ve given me guidance, and if you’re willing for someone to listen and help you, the help is here to get and I’m so grateful. … The success is so worth it and it’s fulfilling. If no one else tells them, I want them to know how much I appreciate all that they’ve done for my son.”

Kentucky Pro Football Hall Of Fame

Like Xavier Taylor, many children with autism will receive assistance from the UofL Autism Center this year. To help support the program’s mission, the Kentucky Pro Football Hall of Fame will donate money raised from its 10th anniversary induction ceremony, held June 15 at the Louisville Palace, 625 S. 4th St.

“It’ll benefit sponsorships, sponsoring for people who don’t have the money to pay, there’s a number of different things,” said University of Louisville Trustee Sandy Metts Snowden. “I think just seeing all these former players, (it’s a) one-time thing, you’re bringing them all together for the 10th anniversary. I think it’ll be really unique to our city.”

The purpose of the Kentucky Pro Football Hall of Fame is to honor those who have brought significant recognition to the state of Kentucky, or have by their unusual successful service achieved significant accomplishment on behalf of their school, or have by a significant act or contribution distinguished themselves as an unusual former National Football League player, coach, referee, owner, management, etc. or have been a significant or unusual supporter of Pro Football. Kentucky is the only state to have its own Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Rob Bironas (Tennessee Titans), Mo Moorman (Kansas City Chiefs), Dan Neal (Chicago Bears), Bubba Paris (San Francisco 49ers) and Chris Redman (Atlanta Falcons) will be inducted into this year’s Kentucky Pro Football Hall of Fame.

The Blanton Collier Award, aimed at recognizing integrity on and off the playing field, will also be presented to members of Eli and Peyton Manning’s family.

The Kentucky Pro Football Hall of Fame will also honor the late Johnny Unitas, the famous NFL Hall of Famer who played for the University of Louisville. The 2011 All Commonwealth Collegiate Team will be celebrated as well, including Defensive Player of the Year Danny Trevathan of the University of Kentucky, and Offensive Player of the Year Bobby Rainey of Western Kentucky University.

Proceeds from the 2012 Kentucky Pro Football Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony will support the University of Louisville Autism Center at Kosair Charities.

For information, visit www.kyprofootballhof.com.

Contact writer Ashley Anderson at aanderson@voice-tribune.com, 502.498.2051.

  • Cynthia R. Stallard

    I am Xaviers grandmother and he is a Joy!! He has progressed so much considering the social disorder he had in the beggining to now he can have a conversation with you and tell you how glad he is to see you. The concern I first had as to whether or not he would be able to live a productive life has have been reduced to hardly any concern at all. I consider him a blessing to me and the world. And I appreciate all the therapist and people who had a part in his progress.