CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- When Debbie Ferrell's son Nathan was first diagnosed with autism at age 3, she felt hopeless and overwhelmed.
"Your whole world falls apart," she said at an event Tuesday to celebrate world Autism Awareness Day at the Childhood Language Center on Capitol Street.
"They were telling me, 'Your child will never do anything,' and here, look, proof," Ferrell said, holding her arm out to grab Nathan's shoulder.
Now a Charleston resident, Ferrell once drove from Jackson County twice a week so Nathan, 12, could attend therapy at the CLC. The free sessions over the past eight years have been life-changing for the family.
For many, speech and language problems are some of the first signs of autism, Mary Lewis, a speech pathologist at the center, told a group of around 40 people. Many of them were wearing blue, the color associated with autism awareness.
"Thirty to 40 percent of children who come here have autism or are somewhere on the spectrum," she said.
The center has 92 children from eight Southern West Virginia counties in therapy and a waiting list of about 30, said Childhood Language Center Executive Director Holly Martin.
"We want to be able to add more, but now we're trying to sustain," Martin said. "We're really focused this year on getting children sponsored. We hope to have 25 sponsored in 2013."
Laurance Jones, who sits on the center's board, said the cost for one child to get 51 30-minute sessions is about $2,500.