Five-year-old Jase Devore takes his role as a big brother seriously.
He knows his four-year-old brother and three-year-old sister look up to him, and he feels a responsibility to look out for them and make sure they have fun.
“He gives them eye contact and plays chase with them. It’s really fun watching him connect,” Jase’s mother, Jodi, proudly proclaimed.
A few years ago, Jodi and Justin Devore didn’t know if that type of connection would be possible for their firstborn. At two years old, Jase made poor eye contact with others, didn’t answer to his name, had no verbal language, and would flap his hands and rock back and forth when he experienced sensory overloads like loud noises, bright lighting, or uncomfortable textures on his skin.
Just before his third birthday, Jase was diagnosed with autism. On one hand, Jodi and Justin were relieved to gain clarity around the challenges Jase was facing. On the other, they were concerned about the prognosis, wondering how to help their precious boy who was being robbed of his ability to communicate and socialize.
Their quest to help Jase acquire those skills led them to the Emerge Center in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. They enrolled him in the Bloom preschool program, a 12-month, five-day-a-week program for children ages 2 to 5 who are on the autism spectrum.
“The Emerge Center empowers children with autism to achieve independence through innovative family-centered therapy. After all, it’s not just the child who receives the diagnosis of autism; the family receives the diagnosis,” said Deanna Whittle, Emerge Center CEO. “What’s unique is that all of our services are under one roof. The Bloom program is a full day program that uses a collaborative, team approach for therapy services.”
The Bloom program incorporates speech and language therapy, occupational therapy, and Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy throughout the school day in either individual or group sessions. Children unable to communicate through verbal expression use a talker program on an iPad. They also attend a motor skills lab as well as art and music activities. Yearly tuition covers the cost of the specialized services. Emerge offers a limited amount of scholarships to the Bloom program.
“We know the parents are spending a lot on therapy for their children,” Whittle empathized. “So, wherever we can help, we try to offset the cost.”
In conjunction with Autism Awareness Month, the Emerge Center is hosting “Project Puzzle: Building Hope Piece by Piece,” a community-wide charitable raffle campaign to provide scholarship assistance to Bloom families. The goal is to raise $40,000 through the raffle campaign. Raffle tickets will be sold through Friday, April 30, and winners will be announced on Monday, May 3. Tickets can be purchased by visiting www.emergela.org/puzzle.
Regions is the lead donor of funds for the Project Puzzle campaign.
“Regions is honored to help the Emerge Center call attention to this special need during Autism Awareness Month,” said Danny Montelaro, the market executive for Regions Bank in Baton Rouge. “Education is one of our top community engagement priorities, and that includes helping young children with autism develop and recover communication and social skills that are so crucial before starting kindergarten. We’ll be spreading the word throughout April: A raffle donation today will help build a promising tomorrow for Bloom students and their families.”
Jase Devore will graduate from Bloom this year and head to “big school” in the fall. He can now verbalize more than 20 words. He forms sentences through his talker device. He’s also learning those important kindergarten skills like how to sit still in class, wait in line, eat lunch with friends, open his own snacks, and raise his hand when he needs to be excused.
Jase still occasionally flaps his hands and rocks back and forth – actions known as self-stimulatory behaviors (or stims) – but not for reasons in the past.
“Jase used to stim out of anxiety; but now he stims out of joy. It’s been a blessing to see him being a kid: enjoying childhood, going to the beach on vacation and loving it instead of being overwhelmed,” said Jodi. “He’s really developed skills to be calm and have peace – to regulate his feelings.”
The goal of the raffle is to help nearly two dozen Bloom students like Jase, whose family is thankful for the scholarship he’s received for the past two years.
“We are so grateful for it,” Jodi said. “Jase is doing math worksheets and pre-reading. He puts his pants on by himself. All these things that little by little make his life better – because of Bloom.”
We look at our children like butterflies. We watch them grow and blossom and go through so many transitions.
Deanna Whittle, CEO, The Emerge Center
Emerge Center’s Project Puzzle campaign
As a widely recognized symbol for autism awareness, the puzzle piece is the theme for the Emerge Center’s Project Puzzle campaign. The campaign website can be found at www.emergela.org/puzzle
. As raffle tickets are purchased during April, progress toward Emerge’s fundraising goal will be displayed on the campaign website. Puzzle pieces will digitally form a butterfly, a symbol of hope commonly linked with the Emerge Center.