Hills and Dales breaks ground on new Autism Center

Published: Mar. 10, 2023 at 10:22 PM CST
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DUBUQUE, Iowa (KCRG) - On Friday the Hills and Dales Center for Autism broke ground on its new multimillion-dollar facility.

The facility will nearly double the number of people they can help and more specifically expand its “Applied Behavior Analysis” program.

“This clinic represents a doubling of our capacity to serve children with autism,” said Jack Mescher the Hills and Dales Center for Autism Chief Executive Officer.

It’s something Mescher said they’ve needed for quite some time.

“In the past, we’ve been just making things work,” he said.

Laura Keehner is the Autism Services Director and one of the people who started the ABA program at Hills and Dales nearly a decade ago. She said there wasn’t a shortage of people who needed the service. Currently, there are 20 people on a waiting list to receive that specific care, which teaches people with autism to be more independent.

“One basic skill that we might teach young individuals is how to gain attention in the appropriate way,” said Keehner. “Sometimes we might see any child, regardless of a diagnosis of autism, when they’re very young, tugging on mom’s pant leg or hitting something. Suddenly someone’s paying attention to them. Instead, we’re trying to teach them to decrease the challenge and behavior by teaching them to tap an arm or how to say hello.”

Currently, the two facilities help around 50 clients. This larger renovation project would open room for nearly 30 more people to receive care.

“It helps develop specific goals and plans and such to build behaviors that we want to have individuals to learn and decrease challenging behaviors as well,” said Keehner.

The hope is to finish renovation and construction by the end of the year. In the meantime, Mescher and his crew worked to raise another million dollars. The cost of the total project is $3 million. They received $1.3 million in grants from the IEDA. They received various donations and another $100 thousand grant.

“The prevalence of autism creates the demand for therapy,” said Mescher.