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You Can Make a Difference

November 09, 2002

Jarrod loved to slip away from his full-time aide and run to the office of his favorite staff member at the Speech and Language Development Center in Buena Park. His disabilities rendered him unable to speak coherently, but he would stand next to her desk, mumbling, until the aide found him there.

Eventually, the center's instructors taught Jarrod not to wander. Now he can be relied on to stay in one place -- even outside the office door of that beloved staff member, without walking in.

No big deal? That's not how Jarrod's family sees it. Jarrod's newly mastered ability to stay put provides them with freedom they could scarcely imagine before: They can take Jarrod, now 18, out for a pizza or burger, knowing he won't break away.

The Speech and Language Development Center is among the nonprofit organizations receiving funds from the Los Angeles Times Holiday Campaign. Despite the center's name, tutoring children with language disabilities is just a part of its mission. More than 200 teachers, therapists and aides work with about 300 youngsters from Los Angeles and Orange counties whose disabilities and disorders put them beyond the help of most schools. Long before a study in October proclaimed autism an epidemic, an increasing number of families were going to the center for help with the disorder.

Many of the students, who range in age from 6 months to 21 years, have multiple disabilities that turn the simplest learning task into a heavy burden. When some of them reach the end of a line in a book, they need special help to bring their eyes to the beginning of the next line.

Will arrived at the center when he was an underweight 2-year-old with several disabilities related to his premature birth. He needed vision services, social coaching, speech therapy. After 10 years at the center, he went on to regular high school and earned his diploma. "It felt like a doctorate to us," his mother said.

Donations (checks or money orders) supporting the Los Angeles Times Holiday Campaign should be sent to: L.A. Times Holiday Campaign, File 56986, Los Angeles, CA 90074-6986. Please do not sent cash. Credit card donations can be made on the Web site: www.latimes.com/holiday campaign. All donations are tax-deductible. Contributions of $25 or more will be acknowledged in The Times unless a donor requests otherwise. Acknowledgment cannot be guaranteed for donations received after Dec. 18. For more information about the Holiday Campaign, call (800) LATIMES, Ext. 75771.

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