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Autism center vying for new vehicle in Toyota contest

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Updated: 10/30/2013 8:39 am
TUPELO, Miss. (WTVA) — They're words that gave Tupelo parent Lisa Martin hope after her son Jack had been unable to communicate with her since his birth.

"You're not gonna believe what he's doing."

Martin said she remembered being told that after Jack had been at the Autism Center of North Mississippi for only two weeks.

At the time, he was four years old.

"When I walked in, he had a peg board in front of him, and he was able to count one through five, these pegs," Martin said. "For the first time in the four years that I've had him, we heard his voice."

Now, you can't stop him from talking, and it's because of the work ACNM is doing.

Now they're hoping to do even more...because of something Toyota is offering to 50 non-profit organizations across the nation with the most votes: new cars.

"If this helps somebody get services that they don't have, that they need, then that's such a win for us," behavior specialist Jessica Stevens said.

Employees at the center say there is no dedicated facility for children diagnosed with autism in north Mississippi outside of Tupelo.

Memphis and Jackson are the only other options.

"What we see quite often is families are unable to access services because it does involve driving here and for many it is a very, very long travel time," Stevens said.

Parents say it's the natural progression of an organization that started in 2009, its members quickly realizing there was a huge need in Tupelo for autism therapy.

"This diagnosis is not going to go away. It needs to be dealt with head-on. They need in-home services," parent Marly Kelly said.

Kelly, whose seven-year-old daughter has been going to the center since its inception, said many parents of autistic children remain frustrated because they cannot communicate with the ones they love.

"This place is the harbor light for a ship that's lost and cannot find their way back to shore," Kelly said. "There's no telling where my child would be right now without their guidance, without their love and without their help."

ACNM expects to learn by Saturday whether they received enough votes to win the new car.
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