“One of the big things I really like about the Early Learning Center is they take their time and are very on top of what my boys need. They don’t let anything fall through the cracks.” 

That’s how Brittney describes her experience with Pine Tree Society’s Early Learning Center (ELC) in Auburn. 

“Having two boys close in age who are on the Autism spectrum and who are very different from each other is a lot,” she said.

Her sons Shumate and Gatlyn both attend the ELC specialized preschool and receive classroom, speech and occupational therapy all at the same location. Having these vital services all under one roof not only saves the family time and money, it provides consistency and integration that helps the boys thrive.

“The people who work with my sons are passionate about what they do. They aren’t teachers who sit by. Anything I need, they make it happen,” Brittney continued. “And being able to have a consistent structure and foundation at school allows us to create more structure at home.”

ELC Director, Karen McClure-Richard, and the entire team know the moment when the boys arrive at school. 

“They come in the door with a huge greeting and hellos and hugs for everyone,” Karen said. “They love people and they love to be with their friends and teachers.”

That wasn’t always the case. Shumate had trouble communicating and expressing what he wanted to say.

“Shumate used to cry if he didn’t get his way,” Karen recalled. “He was trying to tell us things we didn’t understand so he would become frustrated.”

Once he learned how to use an Augmentative Alternative Communication (AAC) device, that all changed. 

“It opened up a world that is just tremendous,” she continued. “He hit the ground running with it and calls it his ‘talker.’ He even figured out a way to hook it on his tricycle so it doesn’t fall off.” 

It’s made a huge difference in his life. 

“It’s very exciting,” his mother said. “Before he had his ‘talker,’ we had a hard time making out what he was trying to say. He would be angry and we couldn’t get through to him at all. Now, he can ask for help and tell us what he wants.”

Occupational therapy also helps Shumate develop skills such as using utensils or holding pencils and crayons which allows him to do more on his own.

His younger brother, Gatlyn, also receives occupational therapy and is learning how to manage daily classroom routines.

“By showing him to be ready to stop and listen to the adult, we’re setting him up for success when he gets to school,” Karen said. “Gatlyn wants to try everything. He’s eager to do it all. For him, it’s learning the balance between ‘what I want to do’ and ‘what the teacher is telling me I have to do.’ He’s learning to slow his body down enough to balance his choices with the teacher’s expectations.”

This fall, Shumate will transition to kindergarten. All the work he’s accomplished has given him the foundation he needs. Gatlyn will continue at the ELC for another year or two. 

“Their parents are both very invested in making sure the boys have what they need and are making progress in all their goals,” concluded Karen. “When Mom and Dad are on the same page as us, it sets the child up for success.”

Learn more about Pine Tree Society’s Early Learning Center.


Skip to content