COLUMBUS, Ga. (WRBL) – April is Autism Awareness Month. It’s a time to foster worldwide support and create an inclusive environment for people with autism spectrum disorder, or ASD.

According to the CDC’s Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network — 1 in 36 children have ASD.

ASD is not a curse. It just simply means ‘I need a little bit more support.’

Kya Williams, M.S., BCBA, LBA, Ready To Learn ABA

Kya Williams is a board-certified behavioral analyst who runs her own applied behavioral analysis clinic in Columbus. Ready To Learn ABA works with learners ranging from 18 months to 27 years old. Studies show that early intervention and intensive behavioral therapy helps autistic children achieve success.

“Applied behavior analysis or ABA isn’t about fixing the child, it’s about being their glasses,” said Williams. “We just work towards helping them and supporting them, teaching them how to access the natural world around them the best that they can.”

Receiving an autism diagnosis can be overwhelming for parents. One Columbus father has 5 children – 3 of which are autistic. John LaJoice and his wife, Tracie, waited 7 years before their eldest was officially diagnosed with autism.

“Getting the diagnosis was relieving to actually know what was going on with my daughter,” said LaJoice. “It was very, very, very relieving. I was grateful to get it, but I just didn’t know what to do… neither did my wife. We had no idea.”

He turned to a local non-denominational church for guidance. LaJoice has taken his daughter and quadruplet sons to the Pure Joy ministry at Cascade Hills Church for the last year.

Pure Joy is a ministry for children with special needs providing them an opportunity to learn about religion in a safe environment. The ministry is open to children from ages 2 to 17. 

They offer designated sensory spaces and an indoor playground during church services on Saturday and Sunday.

Susan Pratt, the Director of Pure Joy, knows firsthand what it is like to have a child with autism. She says it’s important to support those families –letting them know autism and church can co-exist.

“It warms my heart to know that these parents can worship together,” said Pratt. “They can go to service and be comforted and feel secure that their kids are taking care of, and they’re not constantly worrying… ‘Am I going to get a phone call? Is my kid okay?’ Because they’re safe, secure and happy.”

Pure Joy volunteers are trained in special needs. The program often partners local applied behavioral analysis practices like Ready to Learn.