Ross Pearson of Accomplished Learning Centre looks on as Ryan, who has completed the centre’s 12-week Processing and Cognitive Enhancement program, selects a prize from the treasure chest. Ryan is the first child with autism to complete the course, with great success. By VIKKI HOPES – Abbotsford News

Nov 19 2005 The providers of a learning program that is the only one of its kind in Abbotsford are heralding the success of their first client with autism.Ross and Lisa Pearson, owners of Accomplished Learning Centre, are not the only ones bowled over by the child’s results from the 12-week Processing and Cognitive Enhancement (PACE) program. So is his mom.“He never had an interest in reading anything and he was always below grade level by at least a year . . . But at the end of the school year, he was a year above his grade level for reading,” said Jeanette of her nine-year-old son, Ryan.

She said Ryan’s teachers have also expressed amazement at his improvements in reading, his ability to focus on his classroom work, and his social skills. Ryan has been diagnosed with a mild to moderate form of autism spectrum disorder (ASD). He attends Grade 4 at Upper Sumas elementary, where he is supported in the classroom by a part-time teaching assistant.

Jeannette said that one of his biggest challenges has been focusing on his work. He is easily distracted by sounds – such as the chatter of other students or a train whistle in the background – and Jeannette was concerned that he would fall further and further behind his peers. Enter PACE.

The Pearsons have been offering the program from their Abbotsford learning centre since they researched various options, were drawn to the success of PACE, and travelled to the U.S. for training. PACE is well established in the United States – it was developed in Colorado Springs – but is relatively new to Canada. Participants between the ages of six and 19 work with Lisa or Ross three times a week in one-hour sessions for 12 weeks. They also do various exercises at home.

All PACE clients are evaluated at the start of the program to see what learning deficiencies they might have. They are tested in several areas, such as auditory processing, planning, memory, visual processing, comprehension, and logic and reasoning. Specific exercises work on those areas, and the client is re-evaluated at the end of the program.

Jeannette was slightly skeptical about whether PACE could help Ryan but was encouraged when she discovered that Ross has previously worked with autistic children in many capacities – such as with Scouts, the Boys’ and Girls’ Club, and as a childcare worker. Although past research had shown PACE to be effective for autistic kids, the Pearsons had not previously worked with a child in Ryan’s situation.

“We didn’t know what to expect,” Ross said.Lisa said they usually guarantee a two-year improvement in a deficient skill, but they had Jeannette sign a disclaimer to indicate her understanding that Ryan might not achieve the same results as would a typical child.

Ryan began PACE in the spring, before the end of his Grade 3 year. Ross worked with him mainly on his auditory skills – for example, being able to associate a letter with the sound that it makes, which is a big step in reading. One exercise that developed this skill involved Ryan reading a series of made-up words in order to reinforce the letter sounds.By the end of the 12 weeks, Ryan had improved in every area, except one. His biggest changes were in visual auditory learning, where he went from a level 7.2 years to 18 years, and in auditory analysis, where he progressed from five years to 18 years.Ryan completed PACE at the end of his Grade 3 year, and the full impact was not felt until he began Grade 4. Now, Jeannette said he has not only improved in his reading and spelling, but he needs less classroom intervention.“The teacher and teaching assistant were both blown away with how much less re-directing of his attention is needed,” she said.

Ross is now two-thirds of the way through PACE with another autistic child, and he said the results are equally as impressive.

Lisa said she hopes the situation will mimic what has happened in the U.S., where some school districts pay for struggling kids to go to their PACE provider.

“It’s nothing flaky, and it’s nothing new, and it works,” she said.

For more information about PACE, call 604-539-1386.