Phoenix-based nonprofit Arizona Autism United, also known as AZA United, is expanding to Mesa in a few weeks with a custom-built, 4,200 square-feet facility.
Located close to the intersection of Southern and Greenfield roads, the center will offer both individual therapy and group socialization activities for children. Its primary services are applied behavior analysis, speech therapy, feeding therapy and social skills development.
Founder and chief executive officer Dr. Aaron Blocher-Rubin said that many new outlets to serve those on the autistic spectrum are being established throughout the Valley.
“However, there are also more children being diagnosed and still not nearly enough services to meet the demand,” he said. “We also feel strongly that families need choices to find the approach to care that fits best with their child’s needs.”
Blocher-Rubin said that as a nonprofit, AZA United also feels an obligation to support the community holistically and to help fill the gaps in what children and families need.
“There is need across all of the Valley, so we conducted a study to determine where we could have the most impact for our first expansion site, and that led us to focusing on the East Valley,” he added.
Current national statistics for Autism Spectrum Disorder estimate 1 in every 59 children.
Rates have been rising consistently over the last decade, and it is well documented that many children remain undiagnosed due to barriers and delays in receiving proper diagnostic evaluations, Blocher-Rubin said.
“Our independent research has demonstrated high need in the East Valley, where many families with young children live,” he added.
When fully staffed, the facility will have 20 employees.
Carey Beranek, the clinical director in charge of programming, said opening a center had been a long-time dream.
“Home-based treatment is essential, but there are some things that you simply can’t teach a child with Autism when you only work with them at home,” she said, adding:
“One of the hardest parts of doing only in-home treatment is the isolation it creates. When a child has autism, their opportunities to interact with other kids in a meaningful way is quite limited, especially if they are not yet in school.”
Beranek said the center’s goal is to create a fun, therapeutic environment that provides a framework for building relationships with others.
“With this center, I believe we are going to be able to provide a more comprehensive approach to treatment than we can offer with in-home service alone,” she said.
Blocher-Rubin said the focus of the facility is to provide all-day therapy services for children with developmental disabilities in a center-based learning environment, to compliment home-based therapies and support services.
Services will be open to children with autism as well as other neurobehavioral disorders or developmental disabilities.
“We will also be increasing our existing home-based services for families throughout the East Valley, who are not receiving services at the new center,” he said. “Finally, we plan to offer recreational programs and educational events at the center for children, families and community members.
As a nonprofit organization and a contracted Medicaid provider, AZA United is able to offer most of its programs at no cost to families, allowing it to serve any family in need, regardless of its financial situation.
Family Support Specialists on staff can help parents navigate state health care systems if they are not currently enrolled.
AZA United is funded through contracts with state agencies and various insurance plans. These include services for developmental disabilities and behavioral health.
Blocher-Rubin said, as a nonprofit, fundraising allows the organization to provide additional support for families that are not reimbursed otherwise.
“Fundraising has also been critical to expand our services and open this new center, to support the significant up-front investment that is required,” he said. “Through our bank, we were able to obtain financing to purchase this new building in Mesa.”
Blocher-Rubin said that in Mesa, his organization is creating a new clinical model for effective services and family-centered support.
Next, the plan is to replicate the model with additional centers throughout the Valley, and eventually, across the state.
For a more complete continuum of care for different needs, services such as diagnosing, counseling, occupational therapy and adult vocational programs are to be added.
Blocher-Rubin is hoping East Valley residents will learn about the new facility and use its resources. Openings for care providers are available, as well as volunteer opportunities.
“The most important thing is to help us spread the word to families who may need our help and can benefit from these new services coming soon to their neighborhood,” he said.