Autism organization expanding to GJ

Firefly Autism, a Denver-based service provider for children with autism, plans to extend its services to Grand Junction and the Western Slope by the end of 2012.

Executive Director Jason Romero said the 10-year-old nonprofit group decided to make its first venture outside of Denver after receiving a $250,000 grant from the Temple Hoyne Buell Foundation in memory of DeeDee Mayer, a longtime Grand Junction resident with a connection to autism. Romero said the Buell Foundation told him the Western Slope lacked sufficient services to diagnose and treat Grand Junction children with autism.

“Kids (in Grand Junction) could get occupational therapy or speech therapy or therapy in schools but there was no real autism therapy” program, Romero said. “We believe there’s a much larger demand for these types of services than there is a supply.”

Firefly will focus on treatment, Romero said, by offering Applied Behavioral Analysis therapy geared toward young children in and around Grand Junction. Romero said he plans to hire two counselors and an administrator/community liaison for Grand Junction’s branch of Firefly. It has yet to be decided whether Firefly will have a physical office in Grand Junction or if employees will visit people in their homes and work throughout the community.

Part of the administrative and liaison position will include working with a group of community members and professionals interested in autism. Those individuals gathered this August at a conference in Grand Junction hosted by Mesa Developmental Services, the JFK Center and the Autism Society of Colorado to discuss and move forward on goals for local autism services for adults and children.

Sharon Jacksi, vice president of behavioral health and wellness at MDS, said ideas that came out of the conference include creating a list of resources for families dealing with autism, enhancing assessment and screening services for autism and developing groups that can help students with autism handle social interaction issues.

“Certainly there needs to be enhanced services for people with autism but I think there’s a push from the local community,” Jacksi said.

Firefly has something to offer the community, Jacksi said, but there are needs for services for adults and children with less severe forms of autism as well, she added.

“People in our collaboration are looking at more of a continuum of care for people of all ages,” she said. “I think that there’s certainly room for additional services.”


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