MANSFIELD — The Reach Inc. has acquired a brick-and-mortar location after providing therapy services to students on the autism spectrum for 18 years.
Debra Ruggieri and Christine Signoracci, The Reach co-owners, are slated to open their new center in mid-August at 273 Cline Ave.
Ruggieri is an occupational therapist and Signoracci is a speech and language pathologist. They will be joined by intervention specialist Bob Neumann, who has 42 years of experience in education and special education, including about five years as the director of the autism program at St. Peter's School.
The center will also be staffed by a physical therapist, as well as teachers, aides, and additional intervention specialists as enrollment increases, Neumann said.
They plan to enroll between 20 and 25 students, ages 3 to 21, in Richland and surrounding counties.
“I want to emphasize that we're not a school program,” Neumann said. “If you want a school program, there's plenty of good schools in this area to go to.
“If your child is not making it in a school program, then give us a call.”
Under the center’s therapy delivery model called “setting the stage,” children will be matched where they are developmentally with the “just right” challenge, allowing them to adapt to new ways of exploring toys and activities, move their body through space, experience sensory opportunities without distress and work and play cooperatively with others, according to The Reach Inc.’s website.
“We look at a sensory profile of the child, what sensory processing problems that they have, their socialization skills, and then we usually pull from a variety of programming to ‘set the stage,’” Neumann explained.
The Reach Inc. will use a thematic education program to teach children to learn by active engagement with their environment and through social engagement with their peers and teachers.
“We look at what kind of sensory processing difficulties the student has to work on; speech and language issues; the occupational therapy, the physical therapy and educational needs of the student,” Neumann said.
“We pull all those together and put that into a bundle for that student and then we look at the course regularly … We don't keep the program the same, we keep modifying it and changing it so the student has new and novel things that they're doing, and also things that are challenging them.”
A new program the center plans to implement is called “Thinking Goes to School,” which uses activities that are designed to develop high-level thinking in any number of situations.
“Students with autism, they know more than they can express verbally,” Neumann said. “What we need to do is still work on their cognitive development … So we use this program called Thinking Goes to School where we use activities that are not necessarily language-based and challenge them cognitively to help move them forward.”
Learning at the center will be tailored to each individual student, Neumann said.
“We deal with students that are totally nonverbal to students that have pretty high functional capacities,” he said.
Staff will use a floortime model that was developed by Dr. Stanley Greenspan.
“It's a developmental program; it's not a behavioral program,” Neumann said. “It looks at the first, what we call, six functional educational developmental capacities of the student.”
The Reach Inc.’s hours will be from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., but Neumann noted that the center is willing to work with parents if they need to drop off/pick up their child early or late.
The building, which is a former doctor’s office, is currently being renovated. It will consist of five large classrooms. The site will also have a playground area.
“We wanted a larger classroom setting in order to get all of the programming we want into the room,” Neumann said.
Staff hope to have the center open by Aug. 14.
"The way things are going, I don't think that's going to be a problem,” Neumann said.
Applications are currently being accepted. For more information, visit the center’s website at www.thereachinc.com.