JEFFERSONVILLE, Ind. (AP) — Until Luke Dailey was about 4 years old, he had a hard time using the word "yes."
Instead, he would repeat back part of the question as his affirmative. So if his mother, Annette, asked Luke if he wanted chicken nuggets for dinner, his response was "chicken nuggets."
That changed when Luke, whose autism makes it difficult for him to communicate, joined Meaningful Day Services' summer program.
"I had been trying for years to get him to say 'yes,' and they were able to do it in two weeks," Annette told the News and Tribune (http://bit.ly/1omWMlc ).
Luke is just one of about 70 children and adolescents that Meaningful Day — a therapy program for those with developmental disabilities such as autism, Down syndrome and cerebral palsy — help, said Amber Badgett, director of Applied Behavior Analysis at Meaningful Day.
"The purpose is definitely to help individuals ... to function in society, to help them be part of their communities, to help them gain life skills, to help them really be able to be successful at whatever level that is for them," she said.
The program's local space recently doubled in size with the opening of a 4,000-square-foot office at 530 Missouri Ave. in Jeffersonville, joining the original office at 700 Missouri Ave. Now, Meaningful Day will be able to split up its clients by age group, making socialization groups more peer-centered.
Since its location in Southern Indiana in 2008, Meaningful Day's client population has exploded.
"It just got to where we were serving little guys and bigger guys," Badgett said. "The need for the building came to divide out the ages."
The newest building is where Luke, now 9, and others between the ages of 3 and 11, visits for applied behavior analysis, music therapy and other therapy services. Applied behavior analysis, or ABA, is a data-driven method for helping those with autism improve their behavior and skills.
Tony Horn, behavior consultant for the ABA department at Meaningful Day, said that new clients are assessed on their behaviors and skill deficits. Each client has a binder full of individual information — recurring behaviors, proven methods for treating those behaviors and essential skills to work on.
"We basically engineer environments to suppress nondesirable behaviors and to acquire desirable behaviors," Horn said.
During ABA therapy, consultants are assigned to clients on a rotating schedule to work one-on-one.
"There is not a single child that we serve that we don't see some form of gains (from ABA therapy)," Badgett said. "If we're not seeing gains, we change our program."
One of Luke's ABA consultants, Matt King, has been working with Luke for five years and has seen significant progress.
"His language for sure is No. 1," King said of improvement in Luke, who couldn't speak full sentences when he first joined Meaningful Day.
King said that therapists try to switch up environments, as well as therapists themselves, to keep clients from falling into routines.
"Increasing flexibility is a good thing because you can't plan out everything that's going to happen in a day," he said.
Luke was first diagnosed with moderate autism just before he turned 3. Annette noticed that he wasn't talking a whole lot, but didn't think much of it early on, especially because Luke is the youngest of three boys.
Now a third grader at Silver Creek Elementary School, Luke can have some conversations, as long as it's relevant to him — and he's a listener.
"It's amazing to me some of the things he picks up on and remembers," Annette said.
She said that Meaningful Day has helped give her family strategies for helping Luke learn and grow.
"We try to be as consistent as we can," she said.
One method that has been helpful is counting down backward, which gives Luke structure for completing tasks.
"That's helped a whole lot to just give him an idea of how much time is left," Annette said.
Luke's progress and his family's ability to communicate with him have made his time at Meaningful Day well worth it, she said.
"We definitely feel like it's a huge blessing."
Information from: News and Tribune, Jeffersonville, Ind., http://www.newsandtribune.com