When SISU launched an Applied Behavior Analysis(ABA) program for children with autism and other behavior challenges at the Gainesville school last year, Executive Director Jamie Reynolds quickly realized the demand was much greater than she and other school officials first believed.
In a recent interview at the SISU campus, Reynolds said the school was fortunate to have a donor that supported the launch of the ABA program, which allowed the school to hire a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA). That was step one for the program, according to Reynolds, and then SISU needed to determine what the need was in the SISU community.
"So, we put an email out to our parents - our current population - thinking we'd get four or five families interested in this Applied Behavior Analysis [program]," Reynolds said. "We had 24 families reach out within 24 hours."
SISU hired Dominic Holt, M.S., BCBA, in August, and she began doing assessments at SISU in October. Those assessments quickly revealed that Holt would be limited in what she could do - she would need help - and that's where the North Georgia Community Foundation (NGCF) came to the rescue.
NGCF selected SISU as one of three recipients of an inaugural Opportunity Grant, awarding the agency $50,000 specifically for the purpose of strengthening the ABA program.
Reynolds said SISU used the grant money to hire Registered Behavior Technicians - or RBTs. With those hires, Holt can create a plan for children after their assessments, and then the RBTs can implement the plan.
"We were really at one, and she could really only serve potentially two or three children," Reynolds said. "Now we're up to nine [children served] because of the additional staff."
Still, there's a waiting list of 40 for ABA services, according to Reynolds.
Reynolds said families who want ABA services for their children typically have to travel to Atlanta to the Marcus Autism Center, so the goal is to make SISU a hub in North Georgia for ABA services. Of course, strengthening that hub will take money, but Reynolds said the Opportunity Grant from NGCF has gone a long way toward making the goal a reality.
"The Community Foundation grant has been profound for us to be able to serve half of the students [whose families] have expressed an interest," Reynolds said.
She also praised the Foundation for using the new grants to help with mental health issues in the community.
"I think it's fascinating with mental health that the entry points [for the grants] are a pre-school and a police department," Reynolds said, noting that the Gainesville Police Department will use its grant to hire a staff clinician to assist on mental health calls.
"We were shocked and thrilled to get the grant - it made my December," Reynolds said. "People are moving geographically to be close to the services we provide, so for the Community Foundation to help us maintain that level of excellence with our services, it makes a difference."
For additional information on autism, Reynolds recommends the Autism Speaks website.
To read more about the mission of SISU, follow this link.