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New kids' autism center opens in Sherman Oaks

January 24, 2011 12:00:00 AM PST
Children with autism have a new place to get the help they need in the San Fernando Valley with the opening of a state-of-the-art center designed specifically for them.Dr. Barbara Firestone is the president and chief executive of the Help Group, a nonprofit that serves children with autism and other learning disabilities.

The organization unveiled its new center in Sherman Oaks with the help of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky.

The new center is the Help Group's third autism facility in Los Angeles. It will focus on younger kids, some as young as 3 years old.

"Frankly, they do the job better than the government can do," Yaroslavsky said. "They do it quicker, more efficiently, with as much, if not more, passion than anybody else."

Firestone said 950 students attend the autism day schools, making it the largest provider of these services in the United States.

Autism hits boys especially hard. The Centers for Disease Control estimate that one in every 70 boys suffers from autism, and the numbers aren't getting any better.

"The number of children being diagnosed with autism continues to rise significantly," Firestone said. "There's a compelling need for programs and services to help these children."

While the causes of autism remain a mystery, the new 30,000-square-feet center is a big step forward in helping kids and their families.