LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) — A program called Special Beginnings is tackling the challenge of early intervention for children with autism and other special needs.

It’s a special moment when Lupe Casiano watches her 2-year-old son Hugo interact, socialize and even laugh.

“Hugo means everything,” Casiano says. “He is very sweet, he pays attention. What can I say? He’s my son.”

But Hugo has many challenges other toddlers don’t. Born premature, he was not reaching milestones most other kids his age usually do.

“He couldn’t sit…he was very selfish, he didn’t share,” Casiano said. “He was not very social with people.

She was referred to Special Beginnings, an early intervention program for children ages 0 to 3. All are diagnosed or at risk for developmental disabilities.

Penny Amic is the founder of the program and has been working with Hugo for more than a year. She has 30 years of experience in the field of child development and intervention and says early intervention is key.

“As we’re playing with the kids, we’re working on where their issues tend to be,” Amic said. “All the time we are signing or talking to them, and they are learning basic things to prepare them for preschool.”

The program is not just for the children – parents are learning techniques to use for every day as well.

“No one tells you how to be a mom and just looking at how the therapies work, it helps you a lot,” Casiano said.

She says she has seen her son make huge strides since he’s been in the program.

“What I like most is he is able to focus and has eye contact with me,” she said. “That is really important to me.”

Hugo has one more year with Special Beginnings, then he’ll be evaluated again. But his mom says she already sees changes every day, all for the better.

“Everyone knows the first five years are the most important years in their lives. That’s when we should encourage them and help them,” Casiano said.

Special Beginnings will be one of dozens of organizations at Stephanie’s Day, a resource fair that provides families with children impacted by autism and other special needs a place to gather valuable information, enjoy fun activities and more.

Stephanie’s Day takes place Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the CBS Studios, 4200 Radford Avenue, in Studio City.

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