New clinic’s sole focus is autism

by Bob Grawey

Staff writer

Families feeling overwhelmed from the challenges autism presents can now find help at Hassan and Rogers’ newest clinic.

Autism Matters Inc. will host an open house Saturday, May 14 at its 14000 Northdale Blvd. location in Hassan from 10 a.m. to noon.

The clinic, which specializes in children with autism, actually opened in November last year, and wants to let families facing autism know of the full range of resources it has to offer.

Autism Matters Executive Director Tara Bertone cuts the ribbon at the clinics ribbon-cutting ceremony Thursday, May 12.

With a staff of nationally certified speech-language pathologists and certified behavior therapists, Autism Matters offers such things as speech-language evaluations, therapy applied behavior analysis and verbal behavior intensive care-based therapy.

Since an autism diagnosis includes analyzing a child’s communication, language and social interaction skills, a speech-language pathologist evaluates every child in those areas to determine any deficits. They also set child-specific therapy goals, according to the clinic’s executive director, Tara Bertone.

Communication, she says, is one of the most important aspects of a child’s treatment. To better enhance that process, staff use applied behavior analysis to better understand an autistic child’s behavior and how that is affected by environment.

“These principles used with children who have autism can significantly improve functional language skills and decrease maladaptive (poorly adapted) behaviors,” Bertone explains. “In some cases, they can be mainstreamed into typical classrooms after several years of therapy.”

Kids with autism are also given academic tutoring and taught social skills at Autism Matters.

Staff members work around a child’s interests, teaching social skills like asking for something they want. But the context of social interaction is also an equal part of learning those skills.

Photo by Bob Grawey From left: Staff at Autism Matters include Christine Hendrickson, administrative director Terry Jochum, executive director Tara Bertone and Amy Wedlund.

For instance, though a child with autism may learn to ask an adult for a napkin, if placed in a similar situation where they need to ask for help from a kid, the autistic child can easily become lost in knowing what to do. He or she must also learn to ask the kid for a napkin just as they did from the adult.

Clinicians also help parents of autistic children when behavioral issues are present by using functional behavior assessments. These help determine what is causing the bad behavior and what they can do to change it to more appropriate communication.

For example, a child may hit other children or adults. Rather than the child acting mean, it could represent that child’s frustration of not knowing how to communicate what they want to say or do.

This assessment figures out why the child gets frustrated, and what to do to teach him or her a better, more acceptable method to communicate that need or desire.

Parents, family members and even personal care assistants can also get training and resources to learn better communication strategies for kids with autism.

Bertone says there are plans to add a gym area, too, where kids can get specialized help in developing motor skills.

Autism Matters has a licensed marriage and family therapist on staff as well, to help families, including siblings of autistic children, work through autism-related challenges.

Psychological evaluations are conducted annually on autistic children, and also used to determine autism diagnoses.

Those who have children with autism, or who suspect one of their children might have autism, can attend the open house for more information. They can also call 952-544-0349 to make a private appointment.


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