By Gregory V. Boerio
Executive Director, YSU Rich Center for Autism
YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Over 27 years ago, The Rich Center for Autism at Youngstown State University was founded with the support of the local community and with a focus on the treatment, education and research of autism spectrum disorder.
With the rate of ASD growing at an alarming rate, now with 1 in 44 children being diagnosed, The Rich Center finds itself more than prepared to meet the growing needs for students, their families and the ASD community across Ohio, the United States and beyond.
Throughout its history, The Rich Center has embraced its mission and vision with a focus on growing the awareness, understanding and acceptance of ASD through the implementation of high-yield practices, continued research, collaboration and love.
Students at The Rich Center for Autism at YSU range in age from 3 to 21. The teaching, support, and administration staffs have diverse backgrounds in education, special education, behavior therapy, health, psychology, counseling and more. The center is focused on its students, families and staff.
As an organization, teams of educators work diligently to establish and maintain meaningful home and school connections aimed at promoting optimal outcomes for students. Working closely with families and defining goals and outcomes has long been a priority and focus area. Engaging families with purpose and intention creates an environment that provides the best chance at making progress, achieving goals and individual growth.
The 2022-2023 academic year has been a busy one for The Rich Center’s students, families and staff. Individualized education, behavior and therapy plans for all students remain central to our mission and vision.
Rich Center students have been engaged with RoboKind, an evidence-based intervention that uses facially-expressive, assistive robots as facilitators of a social-emotional curriculum. In addition to implementation of RoboKind, The Rich Center is engaged in research and program evaluation of the social-emotional curriculum.
Our vocational programming has seen increased job site opportunities for students, while continuing to offer a plethora of job types and experiences as students determine future employment opportunities.
In addition to Rich Center’ programming at YSU, we also offer a program at St. Charles Catholic School in Boardman. The individualization and specialization of supports offered remain consistent with those provided at the center’s primary location.
As the Rich Center nears the end of another school year, we look to expand these educational opportunities and grow our mission while serving as a conduit to the community. Research expansion, expanded collaboration with the university community, and community engagement are vital components as The Rich Center focuses on the future.
With advocacy and awareness being important aspects of its mission, The Rich Center serves a role in these avenues through regional and local collaboration with like-minded autism support agencies.
Each April, The Rich Center strives to “paint the Valley blue” for ASD awareness. You may see other messaging and insignia noting ASD acceptance. It’s important to note, whether it’s the promotion of ASD awareness or acceptance, the goal is to grow the knowledge, understanding and ultimately the acceptance of autism in support of all individuals, families, and others touched by ASD.
As an education organization, we believe that we must never stop promoting awareness first on that path to the goal of acceptance.
When implemented with purpose and intention, education can serve as a powerful vehicle to engage others with meaningful opportunities to grow as a society.