Sept. 29, 2005 — -- Jake Exkorn was progressing on schedule with other babies, learning words like "momma," "dada," pointing at objects that interested him, and clapping and imitating those around him.
But gradually, Jake stopped talking. He stopped learning. And, finally, he stopped interacting with his parents, Karen and Franklin. After an incident at his birthday party, the Exkorns could no longer deny there was a problem.
On his second birthday, Jake's friends were playing and laughing but Jake was nowhere to be found.
"All the kids were playing and laughing and he [Jake] was supposed to have his birthday cake," Karen Exkorn said. "I couldn't find him, and I went up and I found him lying facedown in the driveway."
Jake was diagnosed with pervasive developmental disorder, a form of autism. Autism is a collection of neurologically based developmental disorders that impair social interaction and communication skills and are associated with repetitive behaviors or interests, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The disorder affects one out of every 166 children and usually appears before the age of 3. The number of diagnosed cases is increasing, up to 17 percent a year.
"I thought that we had lost him forever," Exkorn said.
Yet, within two years of his diagnosis, Jake had "recovered" from autism.
Exkorn credits a form of therapy called applied behavior analysis for Jake's recovery and has written a book inspired by her experience: "The Autism Sourcebook: From a Mother Whose Child Recovered."
"It was very exciting," said Dr. Cecelia McCarton, an ABA expert. "It takes your breath away because as often as you want this to happen, it often doesn't happen."
ABA is expensive and grueling, but is considered the "gold standard" of autism treatment by experts. Its success is based on a variety of factors, including the age of the child and access to a qualified therapist. Almost immediately after his diagnosis, Jake started 40 hours of one-on-one ABA therapy a week. By the time he celebrated his fourth birthday, Jake "no longer fit the diagnostic criteria for inclusion on the autistic spectrum."
"Most of us in the field would say that occurs in 5 to 10 percent of children, and that is a generous estimate," McCarton said. "There are many children who have the diagnosis who get extensive number of hours of ABA therapy and they won't recover. They absolutely won't recover."
Jake, now 9, is one of the lucky children. Once again, he is functioning at the level of other children his age, and can even reflect about his experience with autism.
"Because your brain is disconnected, you can't control yourself," Jake said. "It's like something else is controlling you."
"I feel blessed," his mother said. "I feel very fortunate."
To read an excerpt from Exkorn's book, Click Here.