Denver 3-year-old with autism is beating the odds with help from Firefly

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DENVER-- A 3-year-old Denver boy has been waiting for a year to get into a school for children with autism.

The waiting list is long and the rate of children being diagnosed with autism is now at an all-time high.

When he was one month old, Luciano Espinoza Pagliasotti was a cute, happy baby boy.

He had a calm smile on his first Christmas and at nine months, he was already a real showboat. But at 16 months, everything changed.

Luciano stopped talking. Shortly afterward, the boy now called Bubba had been diagnosed with autism.

“We were just fearful that he would never be able to have a 'normal life',' said Nicole Taylor, Bubba's grandmother.

His family immediately began looking for help. Bubba was growing fast but not talking.

"It’s tough. We try to keep in perspective because I know there are so many babies that have that need and are on the list," said Taylor, referring to the wait list for Firefly Autism, which has an early childhood intervention program.

More than 180 kids are on the waiting list for the school in southeast Denver.

“So to think that there is something out there that can help him even more but it’s just not attainable yet because they don’t have the funding.... It’ just disheartening there’s so many kids that need it," said Taylor.

Because there was no room for Bubba at the school itself, a Firefly technician has been making visits to his home.

For two hours a day, five days a week, Amanda Bravo, a registered behavioral technician has been teaching Bubba how to talk.

“When I first started with him, he was using a lot of sign language and just making sounds and now he’s saying three- and four-word phrases. A lot of them are unprompted. So it’s amazing he can tell you what he wants now," said Bravo.

“He’s made amazing progress but I can only imagine what would happen if he was there full-time," said Taylor.

But there’s just not enough room. There are too many students and not enough space.

There are other programs for people with autism in the Denver metro. Firefly uses one teacher per student and a behavioral analysis model makes it unique.

“What we do at Firefly, we have science-driven data to prove every claim we make that autism can be significantly impacted by the therapy that we produce," said Jesse Ogas, Firefly’s executive director.

Because of the demand, Firefly Autism will be moving to a new facility in Jefferson County. It will be able to hold more than 100 more kids and young adults.

That means Bubba could soon be going to school with other children with autism that are his age.

Taylor says that would be a blessing.

"We learned Bubba has now been accepted into a program at Firefly and is very excited," she said.

In the meantime, Firefly Autism hopes to move into the old Sobesky Academy in Wheat Ridge sometime next year.

Firefly raised $3 million to buy the building from the Jefferson County School District.

They will be holding an open house on Oct. 24.

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