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Dayton, NJ: Mom opens center to support "neurodiverse"

Aug 1, 2023, NJ.com: Mom’s journey with son inspires her to open center in N.J. for neurodiverse families https://www.nj.com/news/2023/08/moms-journey-with-son-inspires-her-to-open-center-in-nj-for-neurodiverse-families.html?outputType=amp
Manisha Lad’s dream project turned into a reality as she officially opened the doors of a nonprofit facility dedicated to supporting neurodiverse individuals like her son.

On Saturday dozens of people, including South Brunswick Mayor Charlie Carley, celebrated the grand opening of the Sensory Pathway Center — a 2,200 square foot space in Dayton where neurodiverse children and adults can develop and strengthen their sensory and social skills.

The center, run by Lad and her team of specialists, has various rooms including a colorful “sensory gym,” equipped with swings, trampolines, tactile stations and interactive panels for children and adults to explore.

“We want to give back to the community,” Lad said. “I never thought that we would have to go and create something like this — but maybe we were chosen.”

Lad and her husband, who now both live in Edison, moved to the U.S. from India almost 25 years ago. Their journey to creating this center was inspired by Lad’s experience navigating life with her son Akhil, who has Autism, and growing his communication skills.

In 2001, when Akhil was diagnosed, Lad made the life-changing decision to leave her job in IT and start the Akhil Autism Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to the education, support and treatment of Autism.

Growing up, there was a point when Akhil, now 22, was completely nonverbal, struggling in school, having meltdowns and unable to communicate despite his parents attempting different methods.

His silence would finally break when he was introduced to typing, Lad said. After he had an outburst one day, Lad handed her son an iPad and asked him to explain what was wrong. He typed, “‘I cannot see my body in my mind,’” she said, causing her to have a realization that led to her to understanding her son more.

Shifting his learning approach, Lad digitized Akhil’s education and started using the Rapid Prompting Method, an education technique that encourages those struggling to communicate through speech to use tools like assisted-typing, pointing and writing.

With the support of RPM, Akhil’s language skills strengthened, his mother said. He is now pursuing an associate science degree at Rowan College of South Jersey with aspirations to research medicine….

Along with the sensory gym, the facility has a 600 square foot room dedicated to adapted physical education activities and games.

In a separate area, specialists guide participants through the RPM method, utilizing specialized technology. Additionally, the facility houses a room with massage tables, where licensed occupational therapists offer therapy sessions focused on developmental movement and reflex integration.

“We understand every behavior is some kind of communication...and another key factor is we educate the families in our center on the therapies,” Lad said.

The Sensory Pathway Center extends its support to those who are unemployed, offering a horticulture program designed to give neurodiverse people vocational skills and opportunities for employment. …

The center is open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. and on Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sessions cost $100 to $250 per hour, but the foundation is in the process of getting grants to subsidize these costs and make treatment more affordable, officials said.

According to Lad, a testament to the center’s capabilities is not only her son’s story, but recent progress of a 19-year-old named Alden Shanebrook-Wein who is neurodiverse and has minimal verbal abilities….


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