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New Scottsdale autism treatment center sees increase in demand from families in need

With a variety of options available, long waitlists are widespread

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Families that have children who are on the autism spectrum may find it daunting to approach the search for treatments or services to help them, especially with so many available throughout the Valley. 

From therapy to specialized care, it can be difficult to make the right choice as every child has different needs to be met, particularly now as one center has observed a trend of families in desperate need. 

At the Action Behavior Centers in north Scottsdale, which recently opened in March of this year, Kaycee Thompson, its operations manager, says that she’s constantly met with parents searching for available treatment centers.

“I think a lot of the families, even that we’ve worked with, have confirmed that most of the other providers in the area have a pretty severe waitlist,” Thompson said. “That’s something that we pride ourselves in is not having a waitlist and being able to serve families on an immediate basis.”

From youth resources to education through high school, choices for Scottsdale residents on the autism spectrum may be growing. 

At one Scottsdale school that offers specialized learning, a new option for dual enrollment has been introduced. 

“When they graduate from high school, they’re not just getting a high school diploma but they’re walking out with an associate’s degree at the same time,” said Gateway Academy executive director O. Robin Sweet

 

The early years

In her role as operations manager, Thompson walks families through the enrollment process and insurance technicalities along with hiring qualified staff to provide excellent care to the kids they tend to.

Action Behavior Centers specializes in an early intensive behavioral intervention through applied behavior analysis therapy, or ABA, which takes understanding behaviors to reinforce the “good” ones. 

“The majority of our kiddos come to us for about 30 to 40 hours a week, Monday through Friday, but that’s dependent on medical necessity and what is clinically recommended for their therapy requirements based off of their specific needs,” Thompson said.

While the children spend most of the day going through different therapy areas in one-on-one settings, the center also tries to promote peer interactions by bringing the children together to mimic a typical classroom environment.

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By placing children in group settings, they are challenged to learn more about interacting with others under the gentle guidance of carefully selected professionals.

With the group aspect, Thompson explained that it serves as a time to improve in certain areas such as fine motor skills as well as basic living skills such as putting dishes away and using utensils in a seated setting. 

“We also have a natural environment training space where our kiddos get to respond to some of their therapy goals in a distracted environment and work on transitioning between preferred items and non-preferred items while they feel like they’re having the greatest time,” she said.

From the families that ABC has served so far, Thompson said that they have had a great response and are excited to be able to help more and more families throughout the Valley.

As the north Scottsdale location is still relatively new — with the Action Behavior Centers making way to Arizona just last year — an open house will be held July 31 for prospective families and interested community members.

“The event is going to take place inside the center, so families are welcome to walk through, take a look at what our facility looks like and see exactly what’s inside the building that we have to offer,” Thompson said.

Along with a general tour of the facility, families will be able to enjoy food and beverages as well as some fun activities, like face painting, for the kids.

Thompson stressed how important it is for families to get the help that they need in a timely manner during early developmental stages, as it can hold great impact as children on the spectrum start to meet certain developmental markers.

“Then they’re put on a six-month waitlist, or a 12-month waitlist or an 18-month waitlist and that’s just such precious time,” she said.

 

Next steps and growing pains

Gateway Academy in Scottsdale offers a different type of service for children who have been diagnosed on the autism spectrum.

The academy offers specialized learning for children from middle school to high school who have been diagnosed with Level 1 Autism Spectrum disorder, which was formerly referred to as Asperger’s Syndrome.

Sweet detailed how important academics is to the school and prides itself for having sent 100% of its kids onto college.

“Academically, they’re very bright and it’s just the time management, organizational skills, social norms and social expectations that really derail these kids,” Sweet said. 

Through attentive learning and compassionate teachers, she explained that the kids are all capable of accomplishing their goals as long as they feel safe, heard and supported.

For Gateway students, a typical day is spent in classes traveling from each classroom with their cohort group, taking part in occupational therapy all in an effort to help give the students the tools and strategies that they need to find their independence.

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Students at the Gateway Academy are able to receive the one-on-one attention that they need from teachers that they may not be able to receive at a typical middle or high school.

As a parent of a child with autism, Sweet understands the bumpy road that it takes to find the right treatment for a child and feels that the wide variety that Gateway has to offer serves as a blessing for busy parents.

“It’s not easy, but when you find these diamonds in the rough like Gateway, and some of the other programs that are out there, life seems pretty sweet,” she said.

Gateway, along with its regular school programming, works with students as they enter high school to develop a long-term academic plan as well as offering different therapies, such as equine and music therapies.

Sweet shared that the academy has also formed a partnership this year with Paradise Valley Community College to allow for dual enrollment with their high school students, with an overarching goal to implement an early college program in the coming year.

According to Sweet, the main challenge that they face as a school is the need to constantly be evolving and adding new programs to meet the needs of its students.

“We’re always striving forward,” she said. “We want to evolve and be the best that we can possibly be and that involves growing pains and making sure that we’re purposeful and mindful of how we’re releasing the programs.”

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