Expansion Helps Organization Serve More Children With Autism

This is an archived article and the information in the article may be outdated. Please look at the time stamp on the story to see when it was last updated.

ALTOONA, Iowa – A facility expansion will allow more kids with autism to get an intense intervention. The Homestead in Altoona started the Children's Autism Project in 2010. Five years later, the organization serves kids in several locations across the state. Now, it's original facility added space.

It looks like Leighton Buckley is playing, but she is hard at work. Applied Behavior Analysis Specialist Monica Ehn explained, "When I'm offering her different choices, I'm waiting for her to go look at me in the eyes before giving her the item."

The Kindergartener was diagnosed with autism about a year and a half ago. Now, she spends two and a half hours a day five days a week at The Homestead, getting help through Applied Behavior Analysis.

Altoona Clinic Director Samantha Cermak said, "Applied Behavior Analysis is really a science that looks at how do we learn and take that science and apply it to children with autism, and think about the most meaningful impact, what behaviors, social skills, communication skills is most important to teach a child and what is the best way to do that."

The Homestead currently has a waiting list of 60 families in the Des Moines metro. Leighton was finally able to start six weeks ago, thanks to an expansion at the Altoona location. "We have tripled our space, so we have the ability to serve more families and kids and get their meaningful services that they need," said Cermak.

The original space for the Children's Autism Project at The Homestead in Altoona has been transformed into an area for older kids. It only had room for a group play area and four individual treatment spaces. Cermak said, "Our new space has a large clinic activity room that has different play areas, play centers. In addition, we have eight more treatment spaces that we can do more of the very structured teaching as well."

The Altoona location will now be able to serve 21 families. Grants and community donations paid for the $1 million project.

Cermak said, "When community members or people are touched by someone with autism hear a story that a parent heard their child say ‘I love you’ for the first time, or hold their hand for the first time, or feel a close connection for the first time with their child, it makes a difference."

It's made a difference in Leighton's life. Mom Lindsey Buckley said, "Her communication has really taken off in the last six weeks. Some of her behaviors have been diminishing at home."

You can check out the expansion Wednesday, October 14. The Homestead is hosting an open house from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. It is located at 1625 Adventureland Drive, Suite B in Altoona.