By MARALINE KUBIK
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN -- Like most babies, Daniel Yakubov started talking when he was 18 months old.
Then he stopped.
As Daniel got older, the problems got worse. He shunned affection, routinely struck members of his family with his fists and was impossible to potty-train. By the time he turned 4, he still wasn't speaking, wouldn't look his mother in the face and wore diapers.
Doctor after doctor had been unable to diagnose the problem and his parents were desperate. Rose Yakubov, Daniel's mother, suspected he might be autistic.
She didn't know anything about autism but had seen the movie "Rain Man," in which Dustin Hoffman portrays an autistic character.
Numerous doctors shrugged that off because Daniel did not display many of the behavioral characteristics typical of autistic children.
Diagnosis: Dr. Michael Stern, a pediatric psychologist at Tod Children's Hospital, finally confirmed her suspicion and suggested she enroll Daniel in Potential Development Program's preschool for special-needs children. Daniel began attending half-day programs at the school in 1997.
"I saw a change after two weeks," his mother said. "There wasn't a person out there who knew how to help him until we came here. They have literally brought him back to life."
Today, Daniel can communicate using "sentence strips," a series of words and pictures that he puts together himself. He can't carry on a conversation like most 7-year-old boys, Rose said.
Although he can speak, Daniel doesn't always understand the spoken word the way most children do, she explained. "Everything he learns, he learns visually and every day, he is a little bit closer to coming into our world."
Rose has high hopes for Daniel, the youngest of her four children. Some day, she dreams, he may be able to go to a regular school.
Until then, a new school designed to help special-needs children from kindergarten through the third grade will nurture his continuing progress.
About the school: Potential Development Program's School of Autism, 209 Woodland Ave., opened in September as a nonpublic charter school.
It is one of four schools in Ohio specifically organized for autistic children, according to Paul Garchar, Potential Development's executive director.
The new school is an extension to the preschool services and is designed to help children make the transition to traditional schools, Garchar said.
Individual curriculums are designed to meet the specific needs of each child and pupil-teacher ratios are 2:1.
Expressive/receptive language, handwriting, math, reading and phonics are taught in combination with self-care and social play skills.
Classes are held September through July with breaks for holidays.
Five pupils attend, most of whom have come through Potential Development's preschool program. As more children enroll in the school, Garchar said, additional teachers will be hired.
Curriculums beyond the third grade may also be developed if pupils require more specialized instruction before making the transition to traditional schools, he added.