|REACHING THE STARS
CENTER FOR AUTISM
- An Ongoing Video Series-
By: Michelle Bekeza
Just shy of her 38th birthday, Michelle Bekeza was at the peek of her career. She had successfully managed to juggle beingmom to three small children at home, while co-creating a multi-million dollar business in which she personally trained over one hundred sales and marketing executives throughout the United States. Life was surely a bit hectic, but Michelle had it under control--or, at least she thought. A trip to the doctor would change all of that.
"I was told that my youngest child--my three-year-old baby boy--would never speak again. Our doctor told me, point blank, 'I'm sorry, but your boy has been diagnosed with autism.'" Those words would change Michelle's life forever. Her usually chatty and playful toddler boy had suddenly stopped talking, zoning out, crying frequently, and was simply not himself.
God had a plan and a purpose for Michelle. She left the company which she co-founded and immediately went on a mission--a mission to find answers. Doctor after doctor told her that there was little she could do for her son. But she wouldn't take "no" for an answer.
She then ended up on the doorstep of the UCLA medical center in Los Angeles, which had world-renowned experts on autism. After weeks of literally sitting outside of their offices, she convinced them to take her in as an intern, where she absorbed information like a sponge. However, during the process, she was emotionally overcome by the number of distraught moms who were in her exact situation--searching for answers, hanging on for every little bit of information.
Through her personal experience, Michelle found a new passion as a legal advocate for families with special needs children. She rolled up her sleeves and created treatment plans. She began to teach parents how to acquire the services they needed through schools and little-known state funded programs. She also worked with local pediatricians to help parents better understand the needs of their newly diagnosed children--bringing them strategies of hope and encouragement.
In 1998, after going back to school, Michelle founded REACHING THE STARS CENTER FOR AUTISM, providing ABA therapy for children with autism, working with school systems, and empowering parents of children with special needs. Michelle then implemented a multi-disciplinary approach setting a new standard for traditional cognitive behavioral therapy.
Wanting to find the verybest socialworkers shecould find,she hired and trained over 100 behavioral therapists to duplicate the process. Today, Michelle and her team of therapists hold the highest record in the school districts she serves, including the LA Unified School District, for helping children with autism graduate from special education programs to full independence in regular classrooms. She has also trained general education teachers, parents, and para professionals on ways to motivate special needs children in natural, everyday settings.
As for Michelle's son--the one that the doctors' nearly wrote off--well, he graduated from High School with a 4.0 grade average and is now attending Western Kentucky University. In his first year, he made the Dean's List and has close to a 4.0 grade average--this time in college!
Says Michelle, "God gave me the desire and the tools to work with my son. While there is no known cure for autism, there are many tools and techniques to change the lives, for the better, for many children. My life's work is to share my experience to help better the lives of these children and their families."