Center opening to help autistic children learn

A doctor specializing in working with individuals on the autistic spectrum will speak about autism next Saturday and guide tours of a new autism treatment center in Elkhart.

Posted on Jan. 8, 2012 at 12:00 a.m. | Updated on Jan. 8, 2012 at 11:39 a.m.

ELKHART — A center to help autistic children develop learning skills will open in Elkhart later this month.

The Behavior Analysis Center for Autism (BACA) has three branches in the Indianapolis area and works to teach language, social, self-help, academic, daily living and life skills to children with autism spectrum disorders and related disorders using applied behavior analysis, according to the center’s website.

Dr. Carl T. Sundberg, clinical director and founder of the centers, will speak about behavior analysis next Saturday and also introduce the Elkhart branch of the center.

Sundberg’s program is from 1 to 3 p.m. Saturday at the Knights of Columbus, 112 E. Lexington Ave., Elkhart. Afterwards, the audience may join Sundberg in a tour of the new BACA center, scheduled to open Jan. 16. The presentation will be aimed at parents of children on the autistic spectrum and professionals working with those children.

Kathryn Pierce, a Wakarusa mother of two sons, one with autism, helped bring the BACA to Elkhart and will work as an administrative and clinical assistant.

The center will open at 53633 C.R. 7, Elkhart, with four trained therapists, an interim clinical director and board-certified behavior analysts, Pierce said. Four clients are already enrolled, she said, and at this time, all clients must be 10 years old or younger.

“The facility hopes to grow and serve 15 children by the end of the first year,” she said.

Pierce and her husband, Chet, wanted to expand the BACA to northern Indiana after the success they saw with their son at the Fishers center.

Their 9-year-old son, Wesley, is very low-functioning, Pierce said. Commuting frequently to central Indiana took a toll on the family’s time and money. Whichever parent traveled with Wesley was then also apart from the other parent and their other son.

“The only thing that kept me going was Wesley making progress,” Pierce said.

For example, Pierce said that asking her youngest son what he wanted and having him respond in sign language that he wanted a drink was an incredible step forward for the family.

“We had gotten to the point where we didn’t know if our son could learn because he was so low functioning,” she said.

“It’s like he’s a different child,” Pierce said.

The travel was taking a toll on the family, though, so Pierce talked with Sundberg and his wife, Devon Sundberg.

Pierce expected the Sundbergs to help her develop a home program, she said, but instead they discussed expanding the center.

She’s excited to have a local resource for other families.

“The purpose is to provide early intervention and to prepare them to be integrated into public schools,” she said, though noting that her son is low-functioning enough that he does require a specialized education program.

Pierce explained that the applied behavior analysis includes having children working one-on-one with a therapist and bonding together. It includes lots of repetition and therapists using a combination of motivational practices and teaching, she said.

Sundberg, who founded the BACA in 2009, has worked in the mental health field for more than 25 years. He began specializing in early intervention with children with autism and other developmental disabilities 15 years ago.

Since 1996, Sundberg has assessed and worked with more than 400 children and adolescents with autism spectrum disorders and has personally worked with over 200 families, according to the BACA. Sundberg also works with schools districts, along with private consulting.

For more information, people can visit BACA’s web page at www.thebaca.com

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