United Services Autism Center opens in Wauregan

By Denise Coffey - Staff Writer
Plainfield - posted Mon., Jan. 14, 2013
(L to r) Earl Henrichon, VP of services, John Goodman, director of communications, Diane Manning, president and CEO, and Elizabeth Brown, MS, BCBA, welcomed the community to the open house for the United Services Center for Autism. Photos by D. Coffey.
(L to r) Earl Henrichon, VP of services, John Goodman, director of communications, Diane Manning, president and CEO, and Elizabeth Brown, MS, BCBA, welcomed the community to the open house for the United Services Center for Autism. Photos by D. Coffey.

The United Services Center for Autism held an open house on Jan. 9 at its Wauregan location. The 6,000-square-foot center will provide assessments and evaluations, tutoring, vocational training and social and recreational opportunities for individuals of all ages on the autism spectrum. Using Applied Behavior Analysis guidelines, evaluations are individualized to each child and adult. The center's family-centered approach means that support services will also be provided to siblings, parents, grandparents and caregivers.

United Services Director of Communications John Goodman calls the center the only comprehensive provider in all of eastern Connecticut. “Before now, people had to travel long distances or go out of state for services. Long waits for evaluations and assessments weren't uncommon,” he said. The center aims to change that.

President and CEO Diane Manning said the center has been in the planning stages for two years. “Three to four years ago, we started seeing a need for services we weren't prepared to provide,” Manning said. “No one else stepped forward. We thought we could do it well and make a difference.”

According to Goodman, one in 88 children are considered to have an autism spectrum disorder. ASD constitutes a range of conditions, symptoms, skills and levels of developmental impairment. Some children are mildly impaired by their symptoms, but others are severely disabled. “This is not new,” Goodman said. “There are adults living with ASD who were never diagnosed but exhibited symptoms.” An increased awareness of ASD is due in part to increased research on the subject, he said.

Division Director Elizabeth Brown said the services and treatment plans provided are uniquely designed for each individual. And because services are family inclusive, those services and plans are constantly monitored for necessary adjustments. Partnering with families is important for several reasons. “What I see may not be the same things that they see,” she said. “And families are with the individual throughout their life span.” It's important to recognize the needs of family members in any treatment plan.

For individuals diagnosed with ASD, those services include clinical assessments conducted by child psychiatrists, board-certified behavior analysts, speech and language pathologists, and licensed clinical social workers. Social skills training provides opportunities to develop communication and social interaction skills. Social thinking groups teach individuals how their behaviors affect those around them. Job coaches provide vocational training for adolescents and adults in appropriate employment settings. And social and recreational opportunities are provided to assist adults with social interaction in group settings.

Family support services are provided to siblings in “Sibsupport” groups. “We want to make sure siblings aren't forgotten,” Moyer said. “We help them understand what it is about their sister or their brother that makes them act certain ways. Parents get choked up when we say it, but siblings will be together through their lifetimes. We want to help them cultivate relationships.” A parent support group that meets twice a week allows parents of individuals diagnosed with ASD a chance to share experiences, resources, challenges and successes with each other. A grandparents’ support group provides a similar opportunity for grandparents of individuals with ASD. Brown also leads an eight-week “Life on the Spectrum” course for parents and caregivers that addresses a variety of issues related to ASD. The course provides education and practical strategies for utilizing in a range of situations.

The comprehensive nature of the center is huge, according to Earl Henrichon, vice president of services for United Services. “A lot of programs will work with specific groups. This center works with individuals from early childhood through their adult years.” And it's designed to evolve with the needs of the community, he said.

For more information, go to www.UnitedServicesCT.org or contact Elizabeth Brown, MS, BCBA, or Deborah Moyer, info/intake at 800-953-0295.

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