For the first few years of his life, James Walsh didn't speak.
"He was diagnosed autistic," said mom Chris Walsh, who adopted James with her husband, Brian. "He had no speech at all. At 3 years old, he'd never said 'Mom' or 'Dad.' We didn't know what to do."
So the Walshes enrolled their son at North Syracuse's Main Street Early Education Program, a pre-K program that integrates children with special needs with their typical peers and provides them with intensive early intervention services like speech and physical and occupational therapy. There, James worked with a speech therapist as well as special education teachers. Before long, things were changing.
"I was walking out with him to get the mail one day when he was about 4," Brian Walsh said. "He looked down and said, 'mud puddle.' Those were his first words. He'd never said anything before, and he's out there saying 'mud puddle' after they worked with him at Main Street."
Now James is a fourth-grader at Palmer Elementary School in Baldwinsville, and, thanks to Main Street, his communication skills have vastly improved.
"When he was little, every time there was a performance or something at school, James would refuse to participate," Chris Walsh said. "But this week, a poet came to his school, and all of the kids were asked to write poems and read them to an audience. He read his over the microphone to the entire class."
And that's not all.
"He tells people now, 'You know, it would be nice if you'd say 'please' when you ask me to do something,'" Chris Walsh said. "It's incredible to me that this is the same kid."
Friends of NSEEP
The Walshes were among hundreds of people who turned out for the first-ever Therapy Ball Thursday night at Barbagallo's, a fundraiser for the early education program. The ball was put on by the Friends of North Syracuse Early Education Program, a 501(c)3 nonprofit that got its start earlier this year. The group is seeking to raise money to support the Main Street school, which serves about 300 special-needs and typical kids ages 3 to 5 in a variety of settings.