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Mansfield, OH: Autism diagnoses 'rising', 'not enough services'; new center opens

Aug 2, 2023, Richland Source: New Autism Center to serve families in Richland County area

Robert Neumann aims to prepare children with autism to become self-sufficient in their life after school. He said that usually starts with relationship building and personalized support.

“A lot of existing programs are focused on getting students with autism through school, but they will eventually finish school and need to be prepared for life after that,” he said.

“There’s now more demand for customer-facing and service jobs because some of the assembly-line jobs are automated, so these kids need to learn how to relate to people.”

Neumann founded the new Autism Center, located at 68 Briggs Drive in Ontario, to create an additional support resource for families affected by autism. He has spent more than 40 years serving in intervention specialist roles around Mansfield.

“Autism diagnoses are rising across the country and in our community locally,” he said. “Simply put, there are not enough services within our community to fulfill the need.

“Parents run their kids from place to place to treat them and we know there must be a better, more comprehensive way to provide the care and obtain the learning tools children need to be successful.”

About 1 in 36 children nationwide have been identified with autism spectrum disorder, according to the CDC’s Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network.

The Autism Center is a development-based learning program for children ages 3 to 14. It would replace traditional school learning for students enrolled, though staff will continue to teach academics as well as relationship building.

“Technically, they would be homeschooled when they come here, so they’d unenroll from their previous school,” Neumann said. “But some kids will only come half days or certain days of the week depending on what works with their parents.

“Our goal is to get them ready to go back to school without a huge transitional problem if the family decides that’s what’s best.”

The Ohio Department of Education approved the center as a provider for Ohio’s Autism Scholarship in June, so enrollment and instruction costs will be covered through the scholarship for children with valid individualized education plans….

The Autism Center is still enrolling kids for the school year starting Aug. 28. Neumann said he wants to cap enrollment at about 10 kids and hire five teaching assistants to keep a 1:2 teacher-to-student ratio.

Students will learn from a variety of approaches that focus on development-based learning including environmental enrichment, floor time, indoor and outdoor play, physical therapy, pre-academic and instruction, occupational therapy, speech and language, structured play, social work services, the Miller square, TAAP Treadmill and yoga.

Neumann said he also wants to involve parents and guardians as much as possible in the center’s instruction and activities.

“The skills we’re teaching need to be reinforced at home, and that’s not really possible if we’re just meeting twice a year for a parent-teacher conference,” he said. “We want to include the families as much as possible in the trainings that we’re doing.”

The Autism Center’s hours are 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday, but staff said families can enroll children part-time. It is located at 68 Briggs Drive, next door to Minuteman Press and across the street from the Drug Mart plaza.


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