Getting by with a little help

. May 14, 2013.
Mercy-Autism-Center-iPad

Mercy Autism Services (MAS) has been prominent in the Toledo area since 1992. Focusing on children, birth to age 12, and offering services to increase communication, sensory, behavior, socialization and age-appropriate skills acquisition. Mercy’s new facility on Briarfield Boulevard engages patients with the most up-to-date therapies and interactions to prepare youth for integration into schools and their surroundings. The 12-month program consists of six hours of intervention (8:30-2:30 daily, four days per week) from professionals and specifically educated program assistants to help autism spectrum disorder children acquire the critical foundation for language, social, physical and academic skill development.

MAS has an unassuming entrance, but behind its door is a wealth of knowledge and services to suit children with ASD. "We hope to one day take over the whole building," says Michelle Nagel M.Ed. CCC/SLP, the co-founder and lead coordinator of MAS. It feels like a typical preschool, but the therapy that lies beyond the waiting room is a sensational step forward for treatment of autism spectrum disorders, supervised by MAS' Medical Director Dr. Robert Solomon. 
The first stop on our tour was one of the center's gymnasiums. “This is one of our gym areas. We have big sensory equipment with balls, swings and bikes. We have a couple of different programs to keep kids going simultaneously, so you’ll see different age groups running around. We come in and do some sensory work and work on social skills, then we transition into an activity where the kids can sit down and focus more on learning activity,” Dr. Nagel explains.

Up and active

Rooms across the hall are used for Mercy's applied behavioral analysis (A.B.A). Children who utilize MAS, spend two and a half of their six hour day with Mercy's onsite behavioral therapists. “The skills they learn during A.B.A., they take with them and we try to spread the therapy out throughout the day, so they're exposed to it all day long.” In another room, with brightly colored carpet squares, is a massive, mobile Smartboard.  "We do all sorts of special activities. It's meant to be very interactive so children can engage in therapy. We have them get up and point to a moving balloon or find the right object to make sure they have a clear understanding. It kickstarts learning, but makes it more meaningful for students," she says. "In our last facility [in Holland] the board was mounted to the wall, now we can wheel it in for parent seminars or the kids can walk right up to it. It's made a world of difference."

Mercy Autism Services' specialized, intensive intervention exposes children with autism to experiences they would most likely encounter at any typical preschool or special needs school. "We do art and music time," Nagle adds. Peeking into the art room at MAS, you'll see a vast array of colorful supplies and children bustling around a table. " We can address social and fine motor skills or a variety of other specific skills with art, making every activity multi-dimensional."

Ready for school

MAS' Giant Steps room has the feel of a preschool classroom with posters to ignite a sense of learning and seats for every student. “These are the kids who are here four hours a day, and it’s more of a school setting to bridge the gap for school readiness. They leave our program ready to participate in a much more efficient way. Our goal is to get our kids into school. It can be very difficult for children in the school system, here it’s one on one attention which helps.” 

In addition to a Smartboard and ten iPads for student use, MAS provides lunch at the facility. “Some of our kids have significant eating issues, whether it be texture-based or another issue. It allows us the opportunity to focus on that.”  Toilet training is also provided. For students who are a bit older, MAS has licensed teachers on staff, so students stay on pace. “There’s a need in the community and we keep adding programs. MAS is the type of program where we try to fit our programming around the child’s needs and that child's family’s needs for an incredibly individualized program."

For more info on Mercy Autism Services call 419-794-7259 or email mercy_autism@mhsnr.org.