FREMONT -- The Kurada family had just returned from a trip to India when Shanti Kurada started noticing significant changes in her 2-and-a-half year-old son, Rahul.
He began babbling. He stopped making eye contact. He became fascinated with strings and ribbons.
By the age of 3, Rahul was diagnosed with severe autism, and Kurada's journey for help began.
Over the next seven years, Kurada, a former business analyst, immersed herself in therapies and up-to-the-minute research about autism spectrum disorders with one goal in mind: to help Rahul, a child who loves science and gardening, be the best he could be.
Last year, Kurada launched Autism Bay Area, a nonprofit print and e-magazine that provides support, resources and inspiration to families with autism, Asperger's, ADD, ADHD and related conditions. Kurada writes, edits, designs and sells advertising for the free glossy magazine, which can be found in early intervention centers, schools, regional centers and other specialized locations around the Bay Area.
Kurada says she started the magazine to provide a forum for discussion and sharing of the latest therapies, technologies and tools to help people on the spectrum. She also wanted a place for discouraged parents to connect.
"I wanted to help parents feel less isolated and be inspired through the stories of hope from other parents," she says. The website, www.autismbayarea.org, is also a mix of expert-penned articles and local services.
Through her work with Rahul, Kurada became so well-versed in autism intervention that she started helping friends who had kids on the spectrum as well as other people she met through support groups. Eventually, she became a special education consultant. That kind of expertise is reflected in the pages of her magazine, and got the attention of professionals anxious to contribute.
"Shanti sifts through all the research and does a lot of leg work for parents," says Mitra Ahani, a San Mateo speech pathologist who wrote about cooking with children with autism. "She is creating a community and that was the biggest need here."
Christine Case-Lo of Mountain View appreciates the articles written by real therapists.
"I've found useful contacts for myself and my son, and I've passed on information about services I've discovered," says Case-Lo, whose 9-year-old has moderate-severe autism.
Kurada has written about everything from how to make your in-home ABA (applied behavior analysis) more effective to how to raise the typical sibling of a special-needs child (her older son, Sahil, is 14). In "The Key to Happiness," Kurada wrote about the horrifying moment she received Rahul's diagnosis and how she felt alone even among well-meaning friends and family. She doesn't want other parents to get stuck in that stage of isolation and grief.
"They're so overwhelmed and don't know where to start," she says. "I firmly believe that if you start intervention early, every child can improve."
Rahul's intervention began immediately when Kurada's initial online research led her to Communicating Partners, a parent-based language program developed by James D. MacDonald, a retired speech and language pathology professor at Ohio State University.
"It teaches you how to enter the child's world," she says. Within the first few interactions, the technique helped Kurada show Rahul how to properly use and interact with objects. For instance, instead of trying to teach him how to dig in the sandbox, Kurada mimicked Rahul's repetitive behaviors, letting the sand run through her fingers much like Rahul did. It worked.
"He started laughing," she recalls. "I got his attention and it made us feel so connected."
Before long, her nonverbal son was mastering matching skills and turn-taking. Until last year, Rahul also received daily behavioral intervention therapy. Today, Rahul is 10 and attends third grade accompanied by an aide. His diagnosis is now moderate autism, and although he cannot communicate complex thoughts, Kurada says it does not affect her ability to care for her son. "I've never had a problem understanding exactly what Rahul wants," she says. "That's an important thing for parents to remember."
Kurada says working on the magazine has helped her become even closer with Rahul.
"I've been able to read some great stories from other parents and have met some great parents who love their kids just as much as I love Rahul," she says. "It's been a great bonding and learning experience for all of us."
Age: Late 30s
Job: Editor and publisher of Autism Bay Area, a nonprofit print and e-magazine that provides support, resources and inspiration to families with autism, Asperger's, ADD and related conditions.
Quote: "It is very difficult but you have to move out of the grief stage of an autism diagnosis and stop saying, 'Why me?' The sooner you do that the sooner you can truly start helping your child."