Autism center in the worksSpecialized care options for children living with autism and other disabilities are minimal in southwest North Dakota and a group of local residents is working to change that.
Specialized care options for children living with autism and other disabilities are minimal in southwest North Dakota and a group of local residents is working to change that.
After sharing his idea and hopes with another, Dickinson resident Nick Gates’ idea of opening a facility geared toward children with autism and other disabilities has spread and many have signed on board to help make that dream a reality.
“It’s kind of just exploded,” Gates said.
Gates’ oldest son, Noah, 7, has autism.
Gates said when his son was first diagnosed in the fall of 2005 to early 2006, doctors advised that Noah needed 20 to 25 hours a week of early intensive behavioral treatment to make a significant difference.
Noah received three hours a week.
“That’s why I want to do this, it’s for my son,” Gates said.
Tressa Ireland of Dickinson, an applied behavioral therapist, works with Noah one to two times a week.
Having relocated to Dickinson from Fargo in September, Ireland said the need for specialized care in small towns and rural areas is enormous.
“It frustrates me that Minnesota’s got, like, four or five autism centers now and North Dakota doesn’t have any,” Gates said. “I just thought that we needed something.”
In the premature planning stages, those involved are still deciding if the facility will be residential, day care or a treatment-type facility and if a building will need to be constructed.
“We already know that it’s going to be feasible to have basically structured day care for children with disabilities,” Gates said. “They can actually come to our center and have some sort of functional work and progress.”
Working under the name South West Area Child Enhancement Center, a group of board members met Wednesday evening at the Strom Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation in Dickinson to get the ball rolling.
“We want to give preference to children under the age of six with autism,” Gates said. “That’s going to be kind of our preference … but we’re going to go kind of based on severity and have a time limit they can be there.”
Committees have formed and will be conducting research in all areas from admission standards to financial options.
Gates said the board aspires to have all research done and a plan in place no later than June 1. An application has already been submitted for a non-profit status.
Gates said members want to keep the facility very open to “children and youth with disabilities.”
“We’re calling it a child-enhancement center, so that’ll leave us open to taking any child with any disability,” Gates said. “If they have something as mild as dyslexia … we kind of have an idea of where we want to go with it, that’s what these committees are for.”
Gates said the group aspires to raise between $250,000 to $500,000.
If a new facility were to be built, Gates said the goal is to be open no later than April 1, 2011.
Nichole Tooz of Dickinson, who is also a board member on the project, has two sons with fragile X syndrome, a genetic condition on the autism spectrum.
Tooz said her youngest son was diagnosed before he was born and received immediate “intervention” —specialized care.
“That early intervention just helps the kids thrive,” she said.
Tooz said her experienced has made her realize just how vital specialized services can be to a child’s development.
Tooz said the group could use volunteers in all areas, from fundraising to marketing.
A need for specialized autistic care is not just an area need.
Darcy Kasprowicz, office manager at the North Dakota Autism Center in Fargo, the only of its kind in the state, said autism is the fastest growing developmental disability in the U.S.
Kasprowicz said while North Dakota school districts will take autistic children at age 3, the time prior to that is crucial and few programs exist.
“Currently, there really is no specialized program for these children,” Kasprowicz said. “There’s very, very, very few insurance companies that pay for them (behavioral therapy programs),” Kasprowicz said, adding North Dakota Medicaid also does not pay for behavioral therapy.
The Centers for Disease Control estimate that 1 in every 110 children in the U.S. have an autism-spectrum disorder.
For those seeking more information or volunteer opportunities, e-mails can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org. Updates and additional contact is available via social networking tool Facebook, under the name South West Child Enhancement Center.