Making an impact

Community organizations and businesses rally to raise awareness and help individuals with autism

Written by Sara Garrison

April is Autism Awareness Month — a time to raise awareness and show support for individuals with autism and their families. According to the CDC, one in 68 children has been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Autism is primarily diagnosed in childhood, however it is a diagnosis the individual will have throughout their entire lives.

In Wichita, there are a number of community organizations providing support and assistance to individuals with autism as children and as adults. Here are just a few local organizations and businesses that are making an impact.

The Arc of Sedgwick County

For 65 years, The Arc of Sedgwick County has helped individuals living with intellectual and developmental disabilities, ages five through adulthood, and their families.

The Arc of Sedgwick County currently serves 3,900 individuals each year, 20 percent of whom have autism. The Arc offers targeted case management, education, respite care and a variety of adult and youth programs.

“One of the best things a family can do is to get connected with a community organization and seek the support they need to help their child and loved one achieve,” says Kevin Fish, executive director, The Arc of Sedgwick County.

Education and raising awareness is essential to tearing down the barriers and generalizations associated with autism.

“Many people don’t understand what life may be like when you have autism. Through education, the community is learning that just because someone with autism does not make eye contact with you — they are not being rude. If they don’t respond when you are talking to them, it does not mean they are not listening,” says Fish. “Everyone has a strength and gift they can bring to this world. An individual with autism may have amazing talents they can offer. Many of our technology innovations have been created by individuals with autism — people who can see things in a different, yet exceptional way.”

For more information about The Arc of Sedgwick County visit


“Early intervention is key to the success of children with autism,” explains Nicole McLain, director of Autism Services at Heartspring. “At Heartspring we work to offer families the access to comprehensive services that the child needs in their life. We know, based on research in the field, that the earlier a child starts services, the easier it will be to achieve more meaningful outcomes in their lifetime.”

Last year Heartspring served more than 1,092 children in its Pediatric Services, including 100 children in its Autism Services programs. Heartspring offers pediatric occupational, physical and speech therapies, audiology, applied behavior analysis (ABA) therapy and the CARE program to children ages 18 months to 18 years with a diagnosis of autism.

“Children and adults with autism have unique gifts and they have so much to offer our community.” — Nicole McLain, Heartspring

Additionally, Heartspring offers approximately 1,000 hours each week of ABA therapy to children with autism. ABA is an evidence-based form of therapy that has had successful outcomes helping children with autism. Heartspring also offers CARE Clubs and Camp SSTAR to help children with autism learn social and organizational skills as well as emotional regulation.

Heartspring also offers respite care as well as parent and sibling support groups to nurture the entire family.

“It is important that parents and families know they are not alone and there are resources to help the entire family,” says McLain.

For more information about Autism Services at Heartspring visit

Brain Balance

“There is a clear and startling increase in the number of children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders each year, and it is unlikely that we will see a decrease in those numbers in our lifetime,” explains Dr. Michelle Robertson, co-owner, Brain Balance Center of Wichita.

Brain Balance offers a holistic approach to treating autism in children four through 17 years of age.

“Brain Balance looks to find the root of a child’s challenges. Our plan includes physical, sensory and academic exercises that improve the delays under the surface causing behavioral, social and academic challenges for kids,” says Dr. Robertson.

Brain Balance creates a program tailored specifically to each child's unique needs. Each child's program includes sensory motor training and stimulation, and academic activity plans coupled with easy-to-follow dietary guidelines supported by a registered dietician and geared toward the family's specific needs.

“We have to work as a community to raise awareness, because research shows us that early diagnosis and intervention is key to helping these kids lead successful academic and personal lives,” says Robertson. “The earlier we can intervene, the better the outcomes.”

For more information about Brain Balance, visit

Rainbows United

“Services for children with autism are limited. Unfortunately, families must know where to find the resources and how to access funding in order to take advantage of them,” says Kimberly Becker, Autism Program consultant, Rainbows United. “Because of our community and state leaders taking an interest in services, we now have state laws requiring applied behavior analysis be paid by commercial insurance and Kansas Medicaid. We need to continue to have community involvement and support, in order to keep individuals with autism and their families a priority for state funding.”

Rainbows United offers services for children aged birth to 21 years. These services include targeted case management, Camp Woodchuck, infant-toddler services, community-based education and training (CBETS) and ABA focusing on early intervention, as well as family support services to families and their children diagnosed with autism.

“Some of the most wonderful, talented and caring individuals I have met have a diagnosis of autism,” says Becker. “Awareness includes being patient with how people interact, and accepting the differences in talents and interests. Understand that individuals with autism may have unique and different communication and social skills, but they also have undeniable gifts to offer. They see, hear and feel things in a way we can all learn from, if we open our hearts and our minds.”

For more information about Rainbows United visit

Independent Living Resource Center Greater Expectations Program

“The world is becoming more aware of autism spectrum disorder and the importance of early intervention. However, it is also important for the community to support sustained services for these individuals as they reach adulthood,” says Audrey Hummel, intake and program manager, Greater Expectations.

The Greater Expectations Program, a resource provided through the Independent Living Resource Center, is for individuals ages 15 and up who are on the autism spectrum, as well as individuals with other developmental disabilities. Greater Expectations helps each client develop their independent living skills, promotes social interaction and builds effective communication skills while helping each client become advocates for themselves.

The Greater Expectations program is established within Autism Avenue Flower & Gift Shoppe. The shop acts as a platform and training ground for the individuals in the Greater Expectations program to develop and practice the skills needed for employment and meaningful relationships.

“Increasing work and social skills improves our clients’ confidence and helps them become more effective in their relationships,” explains Hummel. “Building these skills helps our clients get into college, gain employment and transition into adulthood.”

For more information about the Greater Expectations program visit

live  |  shop  |  dine  |  play  |  home  |  magazine  |  calendar  |  about  |  your turn