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The program now accommodates 60 children, ages 3 to 16, who are divided into groups of 12 in five weekly sessions. Each child receives one-on-one therapy from the 40-member staff and stays with the same aide for each 2 1/2-hour session. At the urging of the Inland Counties Regional Center Inc., which pays each child's way, Swartz helped develop the program seven years ago.

In addition, he picked four high-functioning autistic children, including Derry, for a state-sponsored Reading Recovery program he offers through the center for 15 weeks.
"Stan works with kids other people had given up on," says Francisco Hidalgo, a former colleague at Cal State, San Bernardino, who is now dean of the College of Education at Texas A & M University.
"It's amazing the way he designed the autism center and got almost immediate results," Hidalgo says. "It really took off." What distinguishes Swartz's approach from others?
"The notion of discipline and punishment don't fit," he says. "We don't use the word 'no,' no dirty looks, no stern voices or threats. We're very gentle, very soft, but very relentless. No child sets the agenda."

No child gets candy, stickers or tangible rewards for good behavior either.
Instead, each receives lots of praise and love taps to demonstrate approval. "Rather than focus on what the child is doing wrong, we redirect them to what we want them to do," Swartz explains. "Then we positively reinforce them, a common strategy used in special educations."
As his patience begins to peter out and his attention drifts, Derry drops the book he's reading and crawls under the table.
After he refuses to sit down, Brandt, his instructor, slinks under the table with the book. She pretends they're camping in a tent and persuades Derry to resume reading.

When is a child ready to graduate from the center?
Swartz says most children stay two years, "but the real measure of success is the family, when the parents are ready to move on, when they can de-escalate what's happening at home."
Swartz requires parents to attend the parent support group in the building next door while their children receive therapy. There's also a recreational group for siblings.
"Most of the parents who come are at their wit's end," Swartz says.
Dave Gustafson, 43, of Rancho Cucamonga says the support group has been a blessing. Members commiserate with each other.
They watch videos Swartz and staff have taped of the kids, share survival tips as well as humiliating stories about people at malls who glare at them when their kids throw tantrums.
"Our kids look normal and no one gives the parents any grace at all," says Gustafson, whose son Aaron is 12. "We decided we all need signs that say, 'Good parents, autistic child.'"

 


Gustafson credits the program for Aaron's increased attention span and greater pliability to switch activities -- especially to something he doesn't want to do.
Karen Connell, 43, of Riverside feels Swartz "truly has the child's interest at heart."
Last year a center staff member videotaped her son Joel, then 12, at Monroe Elementary School during lunch and recess. A common characteristic of autistic people is a missing social chip. So Joel watched himself on tape handling situations and observing how peers reacted to him. "He saw himself being curt, being abrasive," his mother says.
Connell strongly supports the center's reliance on verbal and physical praise. "I think they've gotten Joel ready to emerge into the world," she says.
Cindy Ford, 43, of Ontario is grateful she's learned ways of dealing with 10-year-old Dakota without blowing her cool.
The other morning she warded off a tantrum in the bathroom by grabbing the electric toothbrush.
"It distracted him," Ford says, "I rubbed it on his arm and back and got him to giggle. It worked."

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