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Helping Special Needs Kids Break Through Barriers



Nicky Altikulac.

Photos by Tracey Rice

As Halloween approaches, thoughts turn to costumes, trick-or-treating and festivals. For Nicky Altikulac, BCBA (Board Certified Behavior Analyst), Halloween is a teaching opportunity.

The Peachtree Corners resident is the founder and executive director of All Kids First (AKF), a service offering Applied Behavior Analysis, speech therapy and occupational therapy at clinics in Berkeley Lake, Snellville, Roswell and Alpharetta and in clients’ homes.

Founded in 2005, AKF serves children with developmental disabilities such as autism spectrum disorder, Down syndrome, cerebral palsy and intellectual disabilities. Today, the staff, which has 40 therapists, includes Altikulac’s two sons, Cem and Alp.

Alp Altikulac.

“They’ve been working with me since day one because they were my typical peers to work on social and play skills with my clients. So even when they were in elementary school, always I used to take them with me after school to work on social skills,” she said.

Cem Altikulac

For some AKF clients, Halloween prep can mean two months of work helping a child develop a tolerance for wearing a costume and learning to make the trick-or-treat transaction.

“We practice at home first because we can manipulate the environment to build the prerequisite skills. We teach him to take just one candy if candy is handed to him. Or, if he is verbal, we teach him what to say when waiting his turn to get candy,” Altikulac said.

AKF also offers trick-or-treating at its clinics, where kids can enjoy the experience of wearing costumes and receiving treats.

Halloween becomes a teaching opportunity (Photo courtesy of All Kids First)

“It’s for the parents as much as for the kids,” Altikulac said. “Each parent would like to enjoy the holidays with their kids and see their kids have fun times, like their peers and siblings.”

Individualized treatment plans for AKF clients target areas such as communication, social skills, self-care, play, motor development and academic skills.

One parent asked AKF to teach their autistic child to play video games with his brother. Others have sought help with potty training. Some have called saying they wish their child would respond to his or her name, give a hug or call them mom or dad.

“For others, we take that for granted,” Altikulac said. “And some of the kids don’t show affection the way we do.”

Building her practice

Altikulac says she doesn’t know what triggered her desire for working with special needs children but doing so has been her passion since she was 18 years old. Originally from Turkey, she earned a bachelor’s degree in guidance and psychological consultation from Marmara University and a master’s degree in special education from Istanbul University.

She opened her first clinic serving children with developmental disabilities in Istanbul at the age of 22, and within a few years opened a preschool. She also volunteered for 10 years as a coach for the Turkish Special Olympics Team and as a psychological consultant for an international humanitarian organization working with children living on the streets in Romania.

In 1999, Altikulac married and moved to the U.S., where she completed the Applied Behavioral Analysis certificate program at Penn State University and a 1,500-hour internship program at the Marcus Autism Center that made her eligible to take the exam to get her BCBA certification. She also earned a master’s degree in human behavior from Capella University.
She worked as a therapist in the Babies Can’t Wait Early Intervention Program in Gwinnett and DeKalb counties before opening All Kids First and continued offering the program’s services for a while through her business.

Eileen Kaiser, a project coordinator at the Marcus Autism Center, was Altikulac’s supervisor at Babies Can’t Wait.

“One of my goals was to increase the number of highly qualified providers who could offer services to families. I was pleasantly surprised to receive Nicky’s resume one day. She had an incredible amount of experience working with children with special needs,” Kaiser said. “She brought a lot of knowledge to our program and made it a point to hire only people who had good qualifications.”

Kaiser said All Kids First has helped provide much needed services to children with autism.

“According to CDC statistics, the rate of autism is now estimated to be 1 in 54 children. It is often difficult for parents to find services to address their children’s needs. Many programs have long waiting lists or may be too far for parents to travel. All Kids First offers a variety of services to help families in the north metro area. Applied Behavior Analysis is what most parents are seeking,” she said.

Kaiser said she is glad to count Altikulac as a friend, calling her “hard-working, kind and honest.”

“Nicky’s energy amazes me,” she said.

In addition to her AKF work, Altikulac travels internationally for private consultations and to present at events for families of children with special needs. She also supervises an Applied Behavior Analysis clinic in Istanbul and co-leads Spectrum, a local group for adults with autism needing low support.

‘The journey is long and every step is important’

Duluth resident Jyotica Sood says “Ms. Nicky” has had a major impact on her son’s development. The Peachtree High School student, who has autism, became a client at age two in AKF’s first year.

Her son is a visual learner, so Altikulac used toys, jigsaw puzzles and board games as teaching tools for him in home visits, Sood said. With her encouragement, Altikulac also occasionally brought her sons along.

Sood said her son really enjoyed the visits from Alp and Cem and said she learned a lot about teaching him while watching him play with the boys and their mother.

“So, okay, what she’s doing, how she is doing it, how I can use a simple picture card and teach him. It’s not just about the colors or the picture of a car, but how to look at that car,” she said.

Sood gratefully ticks off her son’s accomplishments, starting with his ability to communicate his needs to his parents. “He can read a paragraph. He can answer questions. He can use a calculator. He knows how to make a phone call now,” she said.

Altikulac’s sons and an AKF therapist helped her son learn to shop the aisles at Walmart, and she hopes that he can live independently one day.

“Today, what he is, a lot of it goes to ABA therapy,” Sood said. “The journey is long, and I understand that every step is very important. Every small thing he learns is important to us.”

Cem and Alp

Altikulac’s sons express great pride in their mother’s devotion to special needs children and say growing up along with her business inspired their career paths.

Cem, 20, oversees the AKF clinics as regional operations manager and is a junior at Georgia State University.

“I feel like watching my mom grow her company throughout these years has given me a sense of perspective about the community around me and pushed me towards wanting to become my own business owner in the future as well as pursuing a business degree at Georgia State,” he said.

Alp, 18, graduated from Norcross High School this year and is a registered behavior technician at AKF.

“The earliest memory I have is me begging my mom not to take me to preschool so I could come to work with her and be a typical peer to the kids in therapy,” he said. “I knew when I was 10 that I wanted to do this with my life. It’s such a joyful and rewarding job and experience.

Every day, people thank me for my services and all that I have done with their child, and my love to help people just continues to drive me further and further. My goal is to get my BCBA and contribute my life to helping special needs children and kids on the spectrum.”

For more information about All Kids First, visit allkidsfirst.com.

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What’s Happening at Pinckneyville Community Center this Month



NEW! Gwinnett “En Plein Air” Park Art Challenge: We’re calling Gwinnett artists 16 and older to participate in an artwork challenge! Paint an outdoor scene at one or more of the parks selected for a chance to win a cash prize. Saturday, August 5 to Saturday, November 11. Submission deadline is November 17. Please call 678-277-0920 for more information!


Adventure Days Out: We’ve got your school’s out childcare covered. Children will have an amazing experience trying new games, exploring new skills, making new friends and most of all, having fun! 7:30 a.m. – 6:00 p.m. Ages 5-12. $30 per day.

  • October 5, 6, 9

NEW! Beginner Karate: This course consists of traditional martial arts self-defense to help students develop strength, knowledge and discipline. Our classes are safe, fun and exciting! Saturdays, October 7 – 28. 1:15 p.m. – 2:15 p.m. Ages 5/up. $88.

NEW! Basic Drawing: Students will learn the basics of line, shape, value, texture, and perspective to create finished drawings in pencil and charcoal. Students will draw subject matter provided by the instructor. Call 678-277-0920 for dates and times. Ages 18/up. $201.

NEW! Understanding Watercolor: Taught by an award-winning watercolorist, this course emphasizes techniques in watercolor. Various subject matter from still life, landscape, animals to portraits will be rendered. All levels welcome. Call 678-277-0920 for dates and times. Ages 18/up. $201.

Get Into Watercolor: Learn the basics of watercolor from a seasoned instructor! This class is designed for beginners as well as the more experienced. Master the methods of watercolor to paint basic and complex shapes; development of depth through values, perspective, color and the composition of overall painting. Students will furnish their own materials (supply list will be provided). Saturdays, October 7 – November 11. 10:00 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. Ages 16/up. $141.

Ballet–Preschool: Creative dances and imagination will help instill a love for dancing, as your toddler learns the basics of ballet in a positive and fun environment! Preschool ballet will need pink leather ballet shoes and pink footed tights, pink leotards and a pink skirt. Saturdays September 9 – 30. 10:00 a.m. – 10:45 a.m. Ages 4–5. $37.

Ballet–Beg: Expand your child’s ballet abilities in this beginner class. Students will focus on developing ballet techniques and posturing. Beginner ballet will need pink leather ballet shoes and pink footed tights, pink leotards and a pink skirt. Saturdays, September 9 – 30. 12:15 p.m. – 1:00 p.m. Ages 6–9. $37.

Ballet–Int: Expand your child’s ballet abilities in this beginner class. Students will focus on developing ballet techniques and posturing. Beginner ballet will need pink leather ballet shoes and pink footed tights, pink leotards and a pink skirt. Saturdays, September 9 – 30. 9:15 a.m. – 10:00 a.m. Ages 7–10. $37.

Ballet–Int: Students will reinforce their ballet techniques, physical strength, flexibility, and musicality in this intermediate level class. Dancers need pink leather ballet shoes, pink footed tights, black leotard and a black skirt. Saturdays, September 9 – 30. 11:30 a.m. – 12:15 p.m. Ages 11–16. $37.

Ballet–Adv/Pointe: This class is designed for dancers 15 or older, aimed at strengthening ballet technique, flexibility, and performance levels. More demanding and complex movements will help your student master the art of ballet. Dancers need pink leather ballet shoes, pink footed tights, black leotard and a black skirt. Saturdays, September 9 – 30. 10:45 a.m. – 11:30 a.m. Ages 15/up. $37.

NEW! Hip Hop/Jazz: Tone your body and get your heart pumping to the beats of your favorite music! Students will learn fun, innovative, and unique dance routines that will strengthen their dance skills. Each class consists of stretching, exercise, cool downs and dance choreography. Drop in any class for only $15. Wednesdays, September 13 – November 1. 6:10 p.m. – 7:00 p.m. Ages 8-12 $81.

NEW! SWEAT: This class incorporates all aspects of fitness: cardio, resistance, flexibility and core training structured in segments that focus on upper, middle and lower body exercises. This class will improve endurance, strength, muscle, tone and definition for all fitness levels. Wednesdays, September 13 – November 1. 7:10 p.m. – 7:50 p.m. Ages 18/up. $81.

NEW! 3D Printing Workshops: Unlock your child’s creativity and introduce them to the exciting world of 3D modeling and printing! Our class teaches the basics of 3D design using industry-standard software, Blender and bringing designs to life through 3D printing. Participants will gain valuable skills such as problem solving, spatial reasoning, creativity and attention to detail while having fun creating their own unique 3D printed creation. A laptop and mouse are needed for this class. Required: A $10 material fee is due at the start of the class paid directly to the instructor Optional: $10/session for laptop rental fee. Please reserve ahead. Highly recommended to bring your own laptop and mouse. 

  • 3D Printing Experience: Saturdays in August, 2 p.m. – 3 p.m., Ages 6 – 18, $36
  • Design Thinking in 3D Printing: Saturdays, August 5 – 19, 1 p.m. – 2 p.m. Ages 6 – 18, $100


NEW! Session begins September 11, registration opens August 30.

Wheel: This class is perfect for beginner pottery students who want to learn the basics of working with a pottery wheel. $22 per bag of clay required. Mondays, 6:30 p.m. – 9:30 p.m. Ages 16/up. $128.

Wheel Adv: Advanced pottery wheel lessons that build on the beginner class so you can hone your skills and perfect your craft. $22 per bag of clay required. Tuesdays, 6:30 p.m. – 9:30 p.m. Ages 16/up. $128.

Wheel/Handbuilding – Beginner: This class is for true beginners interested in pottery, both wheel and handbuilding will be explored. Try it out and explore a new art form! $22 per bag of clay required. Tuesdays, 10:30 a.m. – 1:30 p.m. Ages 16/up. $128.

Wheel/Handbuilding – Adv: This course incorporates working with a pottery wheel and hand building with clay for more experienced students. $22 per bag of clay required. Wednesdays, 10:30 a.m. – 1:30 p.m. Ages 16/up. $128.

Handbuilding: No wheel necessary in this course, learn how to work and create with your hands using clay and tools. $22 per bag of clay required. Thursdays, 6:30 p.m. – 9:30 p.m. Ages 16/up. $128.

Independent Study: Open studio session for individual pottery artists. Must complete Pottery Studio orientation prior to first visit if you are a new patron. Monday – Saturday. Ages 16/up. $100.

Independent Study ADD ON: Open studio session for individual pottery artists.  Must be registered for current pottery class. Monday – Saturday. Ages16/up. $30. 

*Out of county resident fees applied at time of registration*


Atlanta Gourd Patch: Create art on gourd canvases. Meeting the second Saturday of each month, 10:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m. To register contact Kay Rozea at 470-316-8185 or kmr01@aol.com.

Atlanta Hobby Robotics Club: Come and share your robotics ideas. All ages are welcome. Meeting on the third Saturday of each month, 10:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. To register contact Walter Burleson at 404-932-8108 or wlenbl@gmail.com.

Senior Bridge Club: A trick-taking card game using a standard 52-card deck. In its basic format, it is played by four players in two competing partnerships. 50/up. Thursdays, 9:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m. To register contact Mary Fender at 678-357-6709 or maryrfender@yahoo.com.

Bridge- Act II: Fourth Monday of each month from 10:00 a.m. – 2:30 p.m. For more information contact JoAnne Leisen at 571-330-4730.

Guitars for Vets: Helping Veterans cope with PTSD through music. Participants get 10 weeks of one–on–one lessons. When finished with lessons participants will receive a free guitar! Mondays, 12:00 p.m. – 3:00 p.m. To register contact Cliff Meinhardt at 404-234-8040. Visit guitars4vets.org for more information.

Gwinnett Chess Club: Chess for all ages. All experiences are welcomed. Every other Saturday, 9:30 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. To register contact Tom Emch at 770-605-0429 or ibemch@charter.net.

Last Tuesday Book Club: Join in on all the reading fun! Meets the last Tuesday of each month.

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Robert D. Fowler Family YMCA Plans ‘Welcoming Week’ and More Exciting Events This Fall



Welcoming Week: Reserve your FREE one-time guest pass during the week of September 8 – 17 and enjoy everything the Robert D. Fowler Family YMCA has to offer. Welcoming Week provides an opportunity for Peachtree Corners neighbors, whether they are immigrants or U.S.-born residents, to connect and strengthen community bonds. From swim class and water safety to day camps, group workouts and community well-being initiatives, the Rober D. Fowler Family YMCA has something for the whole family.

Guest passes do not include access to outdoor pools or basketball facilities in the gymnasium. Click here for you free guest pass.

Lifelong Learners: Healthy living doesn’t always mean physical activity. Creative thinking, exploring interests, and learning new things are as important as diet and exercise. That is the philosophy behind Lifelong Learners. For ages 50 and up, Lifelong Learners offers seniors the chance to come together and enjoy guest speakers, local field trips and spirited cultural discussions. The group meets every other Friday at 12:15 p.m. in the Senior Center. For more information, email Rob Wilson at robertw@ymcaatlanta.com.

Grief and Loss Support Group: Grief and loss are two of the most difficult emotions to face in life, but you don’t have to face them alone. Every Monday at 11 a.m. in the Senior Meeting Room, the Robert D. Fowler Family YMCA provides a safe and caring environment for participants to come together and begin to understand the grief process. For more information, connect with Ellie Garrett at ejgarrett@gmail.com.

Caring for Those Who Care: The YMCA’s weekly Caregivers Group provides a dedicated meeting space for caregivers to offer and receive emotional support. If you are providing care for a loved one, or want to learn more about long term caregiving, this group is for you. The group offers practical information while respecting confidentiality and encouraging camaraderie. Take this opportunity to build relationships with others in similar situations every Tuesday at 11:45 a.m. in the Senior Meeting Room. To learn more, email Mary Crawley at mcrawley@wans.net.

More Senior Activities: 

  • Canasta: Every Monday at 2 p.m. in the Senior Meeting Room,
  • Dominoes: Every Thursday at 10:45 a.m. in the Senior Meeting Room

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Gully-Washer Subsides to Keep ‘Light Up The Corners’ on Track



Call it luck or divine intervention, but some force in the universe was determined that the 10th annual Light Up The Corners event was going to take place as planned. About an hour before start time, the deluge that threatened the area with heavy rains and strong winds on Saturday, Aug. 12, began to subside.

By the planned 8 p.m. start, the sun had peeked through the clouds and fun and festivities were in full swing.

Guests from all across metro Atlanta gathered at The Forum at Peachtree Corners for the four-mile glow run and one kilometer twilight trot benefitting the Fowler Family YMCA. The evening raised over $60,000 for the local community center, according to organizers.

“This event has taken on a life of its own,” said Light Up The Corners race organizer Amy Massey in a press release. “The run is less about competition and more about friends, neighbors and families coming together to participate in a healthy, family-friendly fun way to ‘glow for the good’ of the community.”

Despite the weather threat, this year’s event attracted a record number of participants, sponsors and volunteers with more than 1,400 registered runners and hundreds of spectators cheering along the racecourse. Even if the physical activities weren’t your thing, there were plenty of other attractions to keep one occupied.

The festivities included activities for the whole family, a live DJ, roaming entertainment — one of the dancers was a dead ringer for Katy Perry — face painting, neon manicures, special prizes and awards for the runners. Light bites, beverages and giveaways were provided by The Forum retailers and restaurants, along with local schools, churches and businesses across the Peachtree Corners and metro Atlanta area.

“Light Up The Corners has become a truly beloved tradition not only for The Forum, but the entire Peachtree Corners community. Witnessing thousands of glowing runners is a thrill from start to finish, and we’re honored to support our friends at the YMCA year after year,” said Charlotte Hinton, The Forum marketing manager.

Since its inception, Light Up The Corners has raised more than $400,000 for the Fowler Family YMCA. To learn more, go to lightupthecorners.com.

Photos by George Hunter

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