Early Learning System

Get a jump on your child’s developmental diagnosis, and turn it around! Dr. Woodson’s new pediatric center in Ogontz provides education & family support for ages 2 – 4.

Not-So-Fun-Fact: the CDC reports US autism rates skyrocketed in the last 20 years. The number of children diagnosed in 2000 was 1 in 150; today, that rate is 1 in 44. Media coverage of this “autism epidemic” has spread fear and misinformation.

Full stop! Yes, we’re seeing more cases lately – but that’s because we’ve gotten better at spotting its core features, particularly in early development. There’s been a generation of research into “neurodivergence” and experts now recognize a wider spectrum of behaviors and adaptations that fall under the autism umbrella. These days, an autism diagnosis is actually good news for parents, because it allows you to get your child the specialized support they need to understand our world and succeed in it.

These kids aren’t damaged, they just need different skills. While there’s a good deal of state and federal funding for autism treatment/support, accessing this money can be challenging, and there are often long waiting lists for quality care facilities. A new pediatric center in Northwest Philly seeks to address these issues, reaching out to families of all income levels with information, assistance, and a healthy dose of cheerleading.

Local correspondent Charity Frye has all the details in her insightful sit-down with the Pediatric Center for Autism’s founder/owner Dr. Lorenzo Woodson PhD, CC and his dynamic young protégé, Zakiya Parson.

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity

Q: Why is it so important to have early intervention for children with autism and other neurodiverse children?

Zakiya Parson: 

One of the best reasons we want to start as early as possible with our children, is so we can head off problematic behaviors before they become ingrained as habits, that could potentially wind up limiting them as adults. Another reason, studies prove that early intervention increases IQ, communication, and social interactions. Early intervention also affects emotional well-being – kids of all ages feel more confident when they have the skills they need to understand and navigate a world that often overwhelms or just doesn’t make sense to them.

Dr. Lorenzo Woodson: 

And as I worked with Community Behavior Health over eleven years, I realized that there’s a huge waiting list for these programs. So many parents – particularly in the African American community. That’s why the Pediatric Center for Autism exists, we’re filling the gap for those parents who have been waiting and waiting for the help their child needs.

And remember, these are young children, their brains are developing quickly. Every month, every week that goes by is a missed opportunity, it’s so crucial with children who are born on the spectrum to get early intervention for the best possible outcomes. There are wonderful speech and wraparound services that can give a child the edge they need to succeed far beyond common expectations. The more we learn about neurodivergence, the clearer it becomes that these youngsters aren’t less than, just different from.

Q: Can you speak a little more about your background and the sort of therapies the Center provides?


While I pull from many different therapies and approaches, I would say my clinical background is Applied Behavior Analysis, where we provide children an open environment where they will encounter challenges and opportunities for discovery as well as conflict. We observe and support the child, helping them resolve situations through various tools and skills that we teach them. That we help them practice, and which we reinforce with positive feedback.


I would add that the main aspect of the ABA approach is observation. Every interaction, we observe the child closely – what do they like? What don’t they like? Sometimes kids are non-verbal, but they still tell us a lot just by how they play and interact with their environment. Neurodivergent children have their own unique ways of learning and relating with the world. There’s not one “best” way to connect with these minds, and it’s our job at the Center to give the child space, and let them show us what they need, what works for them.

Q: I noticed on your website that you spoke about intentionally choosing Black businesses to help build your Autism Center here in West Oak Lane. Tell us about how it all came together!  


I found this property through the African American Realtor Association, and hired Ian Design Group to walk through the L&I process because it was a task and a half during COVID! Ian Design Group is one of the only Black architecture firms in Philadelphia, and for my signage we had my good friend Doug Napper of Artistix Signs create all the artwork on the doors and window, and the black awnings.

Doug has been in the sign business in Germantown for over 30 years! His father owned the business and he took it over. You see his work all over the city. Shout out to Miss Darlene Meekins, too – she was my realtor, and really helped me negotiate a good price on my rent, and suggested great contactors and everything.

And of course great people like Zakiya Parsons, here! She’s been with me since the beginning. And that was in 2018, before we even started the place, she agreed to be part of it. I watched her go to school and graduate. And she just came right in. And when I came down with my illness, she got us up and running through her hard work, recruitment and management. And she’s only 25 years old! To have someone so knowledgeable and capable has been an enormous blessing.

Q: Saturdays at the center are special, especially for parents, why is that?


So Saturdays are a little different. During the week, we center on learning and behavior modification. But Saturdays, it’s all about fun! Parents can drop their children of for respite care, and take a little break for the day. While at the Center, we’ll be using play to reinforce what your child learned during the week.

Q: What kinds of resources are available for caretakers of children with autism? How easy is it for these families to access behavioral support or intervention?


In Pennsylvania, when a child is diagnosed with autism, parents are often steered to register with the state for Early Intervention, which provides educational funding as long as they have an “IEP” (Individualized Education Program) to ensure access to all the services they need.

Those parents can go to any school, any program that they feel is going to benefit their child, and have those services paid for under the Pennsylvania Department of Education. We’ll be partnering very soon with another Dunbar Behavioral Health in West Philly, to provide full wraparound services for autistic children and children with developmental delays. Dr. Reginald Banks is a licensed clinical psychologist and a good friend of mine, a mentor, really – he inspired me to get my PhD.

Working with Dr. Banks will allow us to bring specialized pre-K education to our community. So we can start building this generation up to be successful in life. We want to help your family connect to resources and funding, to learn the laws and your rights, and the rights of your child.


One of the reasons that we chose this area is the need. Black children in low-income families face financial hurdles and long wait lists when trying to access early intervention services and support. We have policies in place to overcome these challenges, and are always working on providing new payment options for families in need (our partnership with Dr. Banks will help greatly).

Q: So how does a parent get started, if they think their child might benefit from early intervention for learning or developmental delays? What should they expect at the first visit?


Our phones open at 7:45 in the morning, and you can always leave a voicemail – either I or Dr. Woodson will call you back, and we can talk more about your child and our services, and provide any information you need. On a first visit, you’ll tour the facility, and we’ll personally walk you through everything we offer. We’ll also talk a little about autism, and interact with your child. As with any school, we want you to feel assured your child is safe, comfortable, and cared for. Parents are welcome to come by anytime, to meet with us and observe your child’s participation.

Q: Is there anything else that you’d like readers to know about autism?


Yes, there’s a lot of misinformation out there that wants to blame autism and developmental delays on a parent’s behavior, or where they live or what kind of healthcare they provided for their newborn. I’ve seen this sort of thing send parents – especially young ones – into depression and denial. Sometimes they’ll resist getting a diagnosis, and try to hide the signs or scold them away. Or they’ll settle for non-specialized schools where inexperienced teachers are often unable to provide the educational attention needed.

Listen: there’s no evidence that autism is caused by something, in fact most research supports it’s just a random hiccup of nature that’s been occurring as long as humans have been on the planet. Some even call it an evolutionary tool for innovation. There’s no reason to feel scared or hopeless. Early intervention helps these children, yes, but it also helps parents see their children for who they really are.

Autistic children are brilliant people! Let me tell you, I have an autistic nephew. He’s in college! Nothing delayed about him when it comes to art, history, anything. They are very brilliant people, you just have to know how to tap into their world. We can do that at the Center! We’re excited to help parents understand and really embrace their children’s special natures, and know that they can live happy, fruitful lives.


Know that your child is amazing. This is something that naturally occurs, and you just were lucky enough to get a special child. Although your child may have delays, or social and emotional challenges, they will also have exceptional talents and abilities that will make you proud.

The Pediatric Center for Autism
Founder Dr. Lorenzo Woodson (Ph.D., RBT, CC, LBS) is a licensed behavior analyst specializing in clients on the autism spectrum. He lives in Germantown with his wife of 24 years, and lectures nationally for social causes.
77306-7308 Ogontz Avenue, 19138

Donate: Your donations are very much appreciated to help fund much-needed programming and services for our community.

DIVE DEEPER – click on source links for more history and context, and check out Embrace Autism for information and a variety of easy online tests you can take that will assess different degrees and aspects of neurodivergence. (They’re also kinda fun to take.)

About Charity Sage 2 Articles
Charity is an advocate and purveyor of people power and collective care. She is passionate about documentary and fine art photography and videography, community, nature, and connection with other human beings. You can find more of her work on Instagram @c.sagevisuals

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