Including Kids is a learning center located in Atascocita that provides evidence-based behavior analytic interventions for persons with autism. CEO Jennifer Dantzler discussed this program at an Humble Rotary Club meeting July 10.
“Including Kids was founded by myself 16 years ago, serving children ages 2 to 10. As the community’s needs grew, so did our services; now, we serve individuals ages 2 to 30,” said Dantzler. “We provide a therapy called applied behavior analysis (ABA). When patients are young, ABA is an intensive one-on-one teaching program and as patients age, the program adapts to meet their needs. The goal of ABA is to help children and young adults with whatever their ‘yaps’ are on the autism spectrum. Our vision is a world where all children are given a chance to be included … We want to create an inclusive society where every child is given the opportunity to succeed.”
“We exist because now, approximately one in 59 persons is being diagnosed with autism. ABA has been the most proven therapy to help children and young adults on the spectrum. The challenge with treatment is that autism is a huge spectrum as the diagnosis has broadened,” said Dantzler.
Dantzler conceded that there are a multitude of methods that treat autism and explained the rationale for using ABA. She said, “ABA is an excellent foundation as it addresses all of a child’s needs from social skills to behavior to communication … We serve all functioning levels and all abilities.”
Dantzler discussed the different challenges presented among individuals on the spectrum. “We will have high-functioning adults who may be having some social issues; these people often get fired from jobs because they cannot interpret social cues, so we help them with that. On the other end of the spectrum, we have nonverbal children and we teach them to communicate,” said Dantzler.
Dantzler emphasized the diverse programs offered by Including Kids. She said, “We have full-time programs for our younger children, full-time programs for our young adults, after-school programs, and we do many community outreach events. Within our main facility, we took a lot of time to create a space that would help us work with our patients to develop skills that they will need in the real world. We have bathrooms with showers and we have a community skills room where we work on going to the dentist, hairdresser, doctor, blood lab, etc.”
Dantzler noted that Including Kids has made many partnerships with schools which allow for students to slowly enter the realm of academia. “We have bridge programs with private schools in the area. As children become ready, we include them into typical classrooms with our support. We do partnerships with Holy Trinity Episcopal School, Covenant Preparatory School and Concordia Lutheran High School,” said Dantzler. “We do many community outreach events. We have free parent night outs, free Saturday workshops that include childcare and we do autism-friendly bingo nights.”
A focus of the program has been young-adult care. Dantzler said, “When a child reaches age 22, most services go away. At that point, all school support stops. A recent mission of ours has been helping these young adults on the spectrum. We started our young-adult program, called the Center for Community Inclusion, three years ago. With this program, our young adults are out in the community all the time; they are working, playing sports, gardening, etc. Additionally, we now have a Ready for Life House … one of the main goals of this program is to work on independency skills,” said Dantzler.
She discussed the importance behind developing these skills. Dantzler said, “Unfortunately, one in three people with special needs gets abused. The areas we address with our Ready for Life House are hygiene and showering. If no one is in the bathroom with a patient, the chances of getting abused are significantly reduced.”
Dantzler concluded with discussing some of the work that is currently being done that will help to build a better future. She said, “We need more adult services … We are currently studying what the parents of our young adults need. We are supporting the development of more residential programs and we are expanding our children’s programs.”