'Beyond the Spectrum' helps autistic students flourish

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SARASOTA COUNTY - Many parents of autistic children struggle to find help for their children. But there is good news; there is a program on the Suncoast called "Beyond the Spectrum" that parents say really works.

6-year-old Trace Latham, the youngest of the Latham's 4 children, has severe autism. “He's non-verbal, doesn't eat, has a feeding tube, and social interaction is difficult for him," says his father, Brad.

Trace attended a special program in public school for a while, but Brad says it was a disaster.

Brynn Rangel, executive director of Beyond the Spectrum, says it happens often. "We see children coming out of classroom settings that are so large and so over whelming, to this smaller, more nurturing environment, where we're able to focus on them one on one. And we see them flourish. They open up, their anxieties are lowered, they bond with their teachers, they interact with their peers."

Brad says he can see this program is helping his son. "I really, really see the difference. The school itself is making huge strides."

Trace is beginning to speak. "Whenever we say goodbye, say ‘bye bye’ now, he says ‘bye bye’. Before, he wasn't doing that."

Stacy Bartik says this program is also working for her 7-year-old daughter Amanda, where other programs failed. "We found that to be an awful experience. We felt it was just glorified babysitting, and she didn't learn anything."

But now Amanda is progressing. “She gets the education she needs, she gets the nurturing she needs, and she's a happier child."

Rangel says some reasons this program works is that teachers never have more than 4 students, and an array of therapists are on hand working one-on-one with students. "We individualize all education plans, we individualize all behavior plans, we meet the children exactly where they are. We take data on that, and we track the data daily to make sure we are meeting goals."

For Trace and for Amanda, their parents say Beyond the Spectrum is suceeding where all else had failed. "She's fairly non-verbal, but she's smart and they are pulling it out of her. Whereas the other schools just didn't do that."

“The school itself has meant that there is hope, and that there's some normality for Trace growing up."