BUFFALO — Eleven-year-old Richard Dodge, of Lockport, loves to play video games, he's on his way to earning a black belt in Tae Kwon Do and he's obsessed with reading to the point where his mother, Tammy Dodge, jokes that he already has a better vocabulary than she does.
Tammy describes him as a typical boy of his age, but also says he's "just quirky," somethings she loves about her son.
But it was also a sign there was something a little different with Richard.
At 2 years old, the toddler still wasn't speaking, something Tammy said was decidedly unlike the rest of the very talkative Dodge clan.
But then "he went from not talking to the exact opposite where he never was quiet and he had a huge vocabulary," Tammy said.
"Early on we knew something was different," she added, describing how instead of zooming his toy trucks around his room like most little boys would, he'd line them all up in a row.
At age 5, specialists and teachers told the Dodge family they thought Richard might have autism and by 8 years old, he was officially diagnosed with the disorder. Because he had high-functioning autism spectrum disorder, Tammy said she had difficulties finding treatment options and programs to help her son with some of his impaired social interactions and anxieties.
That is, until she learned about the summer and after-school treatment programs offered at the Institute for Autism Research at Canisius College in Buffalo.
Richard attended two of the institute's summer programs — one when he was 8 years old and another this past summer at age 11 — and one six-week course of the after-school program when he was 9.
The programs, dubbed summerMAX and MAXout, served as preliminary studies for a new program, schoolMAX, the institute can now afford to roll out to Buffalo-area schools with the help of a $3.4 million grant awarded by the U.S. Department of Education in August. It's the largest research grant the school has ever received.