April is national Autism Awareness Month and according to the Center for Disease Control, the number of people diagnosed with autism continues to grow.
Autism is defined by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders as a range of complex brain development disorders. There are so many varieties of autism that has its own spectrum.
The organization Autism Speaks said autism is the fastest growing serious developmental disability in the United States. Fortunately for families close to autism here in La Crosse have plenty of support.
Four-year-old Gideon Schierman was diagnosed with autism about two years ago.
"That was initially really difficult and kind of scary," Blake Schierman, Gideon's dad, said.
When Schierman found out his son was autistic, he was nervous.
"The hardest thing that we had to deal with at the beginning when we found out that he was on the autism spectrum was the fact that we may never be able to have a conversation with our child," he said.
After the diagnosis, Schierman had a lot of questions.
"How do we treat this? How do we do the best for our son? Will that involve moving? Going to a bigger city, finding better doctors, better this and better that," Schierman said.
But Schierman quickly found that moving wouldn't be necessary.
"We had some of these options right here in town," he said.
One of those options was Partners in Excellence.
"We use applied behavior analysis principles and applied verbal behavior, and do treatment for those core characteristics of autism. The behaviors, the emotional regulation, and then a lot of emphasis on language development and social interaction as well," Jackie Vick, program director at Partners In Excellence, said.
After about a year at Partners, Schierman said Gideon is making great progress.
"Gideon is doing phenomenal. Having him be able to recite his ABCs now and read words, and be able to say things and be able to communicate with the other kids in the room, communicate with the therapists, and communicate with mom and dad is fantastic," Vick said.
"He just continues to grow and grow and grow. For that we're immensely grateful," Schierman said.
Even though he sees great progress in his son, Schierman said with autism there are always more questions than answers.
"Maybe somewhere down the road he'll be playing football, maybe he'll, I don't know, maybe he'll be on the debate team. That's the thing, I don't know what's going to happen," he said.
But no matter what Gideon does in future, his dad looks forward to one thing.
"I think hopefully in the near future we'll be able to just sit down and chat," Schierman said.
Schierman said having a child with autism isn't harder, it just takes more patience. He said Gideon is just like every other kid out there, he just likes to have fun and laugh.
Partners in Excellence works with about 40 children. Directors there said the earlier parents can get treatment for a child with autism, the better chance that child will have to enter a public school setting with almost no extra support.