A mom with her child(Photo: ruthberryphotography.com)

Cindy Kimbrell-Bacot

Cindy Kimbrell-Bacot is no stranger to autism. Not only does her now 12-year-old son, Nicholas, have the disorder, but she also used to work as an autism consultant, screening children for the condition. Still, Cindy, who has a social work degree, never expected to be running a school for children on the spectrum.

For six frustrating years she watched Nicholas bounce around the school system without receiving the services he needed. And because the closest school for students with autism was a six-hour drive away, many parents in her community faced an identical situation. Unwilling to waste any more time — time that her son could be using to gain skills — this Panama City Beach, FL, mom rallied community volunteers and raised about $10,000, mostly from family members, to open her own school. "I believe in 'Better to try and fail than not to try at all,'" says Cindy.

But she didn't fail. In the fall of 2008, Bacot Academy in Lynn Haven, FL, opened its doors to 10 children with autism, including Nicholas. The students, ranging in age from 6 to 13, received personalized educational programs based on the Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) treatment approach. The school has a waiting list, and Cindy hopes to accommodate more students in the future. "When you have a child who needs help," she says, "it drives you."

To learn more about Bacot Academy, visit bacotacademy.com.

Courtesy of Subject

Deanna Ballard

Deanna Ballard felt the joy drain from her home after her son, Zachary, was diagnosed with autism at the age of 2 1/2. "Zachary worked for hours with therapists, and my husband and I were exhausted from keeping a close watch on our son," says Deanna.

At the age of 6, Zachary couldn't even enjoy a TV show with his sister, Makenna, who is a year older than he is; the ones she watched overstimulated him and were hard for him to understand. "After five minutes, he'd zone out in the corner, banging two spoons together," says Deanna. So the Granite Bay, CA, mom, who has a psychology degree, enlisted the help of a TV-producer friend in 2006 and created a DVD that her son could grasp — one with shorter sentences and more repetition than a typical kid's video. "It was a big moment when he saw the first DVD, on colors," she says. "Since his regression, he never really interacted with Makenna. During that video, he danced around with her."

The slice of normalcy Deanna gained from that DVD — from more laughter around the house to having a few minutes of relief to cook dinner or just turn her back — was something she wanted to give to others with special-needs kids. "My hope," she says, "is to improve the quality of life for children and their families, 25 minutes at a time."

Deanna has created three "My World Learning" DVDs, on colors, shapes, and expressions. A fourth one, about feelings, is in the works.To find local retailers who carry the DVDs or to order them online, log on to myworldlearning.com.