The purpose the Center for ASD gives its participants and their families
One in 36 children have autism. Burleson's Center for ASD's mission is to deliver lifelong support for them and their families.
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BURLESON – “There’s a statistic,” Lisa Boultinghouse, founder and CEO of the Center for ASD in Burleson, says. “One in every 36 individuals will be diagnosed with autism. That one in 36, that’s my son. He has a name. His name’s Gabe.”
When Boultinghouse learned Gabe was one of the 36, she found purpose and created the Center for ASD (autism spectrum disorder), a nonprofit with a mission to deliver lifelong support for the wellbeing of the special needs community.
The Center runs multiple programs to assist families affected by autism, including a non-accredited school called “XCEL,” which teaches seven-to-18-year-old participants math, reading and science like a traditional school but keeps the student-to-teacher ratio to 5:1 or lower. The Center offers another daytime program “REACH” to participants 18 and older.
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The Center’s lower student-to-teacher ratio allows Val Sims’s sons, who attend REACH to always be included in class, Sims said.
“At [traditional] school, just for the sake of expediency, everyone kind of has to be quiet,” Sims said. “That’s not an option at the Center.”
Being included and engaged in class discussions enabled Sims’s son Emery, 24, who’s diagnosed with autism, to become “very conversational” within six months after being nonverbal when he first enrolled at the Center.
Activities Emery engages in at the Center include playing guitar for its “Center Stage Performers” band. His time at the Center made Sims and her husband realize they didn’t know how smart he was.
“It just brought out what was in is brain that we didn’t realize was in there,” Sims said.
Sims’s other son Logan, 26, is known at the Center as “Coffee Man,” Sims said.
Logan takes and delivers coffee orders for people at the Center in an effort by Center staff to make Logan’s experience enjoyable. The Center’s ability to keep participants engaged by centering activities around what they enjoy has given Logan a sense of purpose, Sims said.
Allowing adult participants like Logan to engage in activities that teach life skills like working for a business is a way the Center adapts its programs to fit its participants’ needs, Boultinghouse said.
“Just because they get older doesn’t mean they go away,” Boultinghouse said. “It just means that their needs change. So it’s up to us to support them and help them find out where they belong when they’re 50, 60 years old.”
Ashley Reneau looks forward to enrolling her six-year-old son in “XCEL” because she thinks the smaller student-to-teacher ratios will enable him to learn better. Her son attends “FIRST STEPS,” the Center’s biweekly evening program for participants six and younger.
Finding a safe and loving environment for Reneau’s son at the Center has been a blessing, Reneau said. Anytime Reneau tells her son they’re going to the Center, he gets really excited, she said.
“He can’t really explain a lot to me, but I know that he feels really comfortable there,” Reneau said. “He walks in and he’s just excited to see everyone.”
While the Center is great for children with autism, it’s also great for the parents, Reneau said. Sims recommends families attend parent-group meetings because participants empathize with each other and don’t have to feel embarrassed or isolated.
Reneau’s learned from parents at the Center like Sims who’ve walked the road she’s walking, which Reneau says isn’t an easy road to walk. Reneau enjoys connecting with people on a similar journey, she said.
“It’s really comforting to know you’re not alone,” Sims said. “There’s people going through the exact same thing.”
Knowing there’s other families going through the challenges of autism was part of Boultinghouse’s motivation to create the Center.
After quitting her full-time job in healthcare management to take care of Gabe when he began regressing before he was two years old, Boultinghouse paid for services for Gabe by working at therapy centers in exchange for discounted services. This worked for a while, Boultinghouse said, but “it was a struggle.”
“Just knowing that I wasn’t the only family out there that was doing this, we decided to create something to help offset the cost of that,” Boultinghouse said.
Before starting full-time sessions in 2017 at a church in Crowley, Boultinghouse held the Center’s first meeting in her living room.
“For a long time, it was me and one other family,” Boultinghouse said. “But if we just keep showing up, people will know that we show up.”
So they kept showing up, and the Center kept growing and requiring more and more space.
“Every time I thought about just saying ‘Forget it, what are we even doing,’ the next thing would happen that would say ‘Don’t stop,’” Boultinghouse said.
Boultinghouse used to be angry thinking about the important, high-salary career she gave up to take care of her son, she said, but she believes her background was preparing her for her purpose.
The Center being created by a “mom who knows what these kids need” is part of why Sims enrolled Logan and Emery.
Another factor that led to Sims enrolling Logan was the lack of services elsewhere as she struggled to find anything that fit her family’s needs in Texas, Sims said. Sims was excited when she finally found the Center, she said.
Reneau also struggled to find services when her son was initially diagnosed, she said. Walking into a support group at the Center was a breath of fresh air, Reneau said.
Knowing what a struggle it can be to find affordable services, the Center “meets families financially where they’re at,” Boultinghouse said. The Center provides scholarships to most of its participants in order to not turn away families with less funds, Boultinghouse said.
Rather than billing insurance, the Center produces most of its revenue from fundraisers, Boultinghouse said. Those funds go toward the Center’s programs and staff, who include therapists offering discounted services because “they definitely care about this place and the families,” Boultinghouse said.
“This is about the future of the families,” Boultinghouse said. “And it’s not about, let’s become rich and sit back and whatever.”
The dedicated staff is part of what makes the Center “a really special place,” Reneau said.
The Center is a special place for 175 different families it serves through its programs each month, according to Boultinghouse, a long way from the single fundraiser it started with to help families pay for supplements, diet needs and therapies insurance didn’t cover.
The Center’s goal is to raise enough money to move to a “forever home” in Burleson that would include living facilities for adult participants. Boultinghouse wants to keep the Center in Burleson because of how the Burleson community has embraced and supported the Center.
The Center will start a large capital campaign in January to raise money for its programs and its planned move. Other fundraising efforts for the Center include its golf tournament in October and donors who can adopt and sponsor classes.
Ultimately, Boultinghouse wants people to know the Center’s participants, including her son Gabe, are people, not just statistics.