Breaking through the wall. A diagnosis of autism is devastating enough for a new parent, but it gets even worse as the child gets olderand more withdrawn, depending upon the severity of the condition.

Thats why West Virginia Universitys College of Human Resources and Education is introducing a new teaching certification that takes in everyone with autism, from kindergarten-age youngsters dealing with a relatively new diagnosis, to adults who have lived with the disorder all their lives.

Autism at its worst form can make its sufferers seem totally isolatedlike islands unto themselves. More often than not, people with the developmental disorder have poor language skills (or no language skills) and an inability to handle any type of social interaction.

Theres no known cure, but the condition can be leveled off through behavioral therapy, which, in the case of the WVU program, means positive reinforcement delivered by caring teachers.

All it takes is one knock in the plaster,said Dr. Cathy Keramidas, a special education teacher and College of HR&E administrator who will oversee the program.When you get that, then maybe you can break through the wall. Even the tiniest break can be the biggest difference in the world for families.

Thats because autism cases are on the rise in West Virginia and the nation. While the numbers vary from state to state and study to study, the most recent surveys last spring by the Centers for Disease Control say around 300,000 American children have been diagnosed with the disorder.

That comes out to one in 175.According to numbers culled by Marshall Universitys Autism Training Center, there were 108 cases tallied among West Virginia school children in 1994and that number leapt to 508 just nine years later in 2003.

And the Autism Society of America says some 1.5 million Americans of all ages are believed to have some form of autism.For Keramidas, the bottom line will come one person at a time.

One youngster, being taught to say his name, or to make eye contact or give Mommy and Daddy a hug, is what were after,she said.One youngster, then another after that.The program was recently approved by the state Board of Education and WVU s Board of Governors.

For more information contact Keramidas at cathy.keramidas@mail.wvu.edu or 304-293-4384.