Autism center opens next week | Kitsap Week

Emma Hall is animated while discussing a picture of a monkey. Her therapist was disguising teaching through play by asking questions about the monkey. - Erin Jennings
Emma Hall is animated while discussing a picture of a monkey. Her therapist was disguising teaching through play by asking questions about the monkey.
— image credit: Erin Jennings

When she was younger, Sara Hall's nickname was Mighty Mouse.

“I was stubborn and wouldn't take no for an answer,” Hall said, standing in the lobby of the soon-to-be opened Olympic Peninsula Autism Center in Silverdale.

That can-do attitude pushed Hall and her husband to open the only center-based autism treatment facility in the Kitsap.

The Halls’ motivation came from their twin three-year-old daughters, Delaney and Emma, who were both diagnosed with autism when they were 18 months old. The Hall family was living in Hawaii at the time and the girls thrived under Applied Behavior Analysis —a proven treatment for autism.

“Emma could barely speak; she didn't point, she was basically gone” Hall said. “She was brought back because of therapy.”

Her mom's statement was reinforced when Emma's laughter sounded from across the hall.

When the Halls moved from Hawaii to Kitsap in January of this year, they hoped to continue with the same therapy the girls received in Hawaii. And they did— but it required a ferry ride and a drive to Kirkland every other day.

The commute and long days were taking their toll on the family. That's when the Halls got the idea to open an autism center in Kitsap.

The Halls knew that there was a strong need for a center on this side of the water, especially because of the naval base.

For reasons not entirely known, children in military families have a higher rate of autism then the general public. According to the National Health Federation the rate of autism in military families is 1 in 88, while the rate is 1 in 110 for the general public.

Children with autism fall on a spectrum from severe to mild. They often have language deficits, experience behavior problems and lack social skills. At Olympic Peninsula Autism Center, staff members will work one-on-one with children to improve in those areas.

Maile Barretto, clinical director at the center, said therapy falls into two different categories: naturalistic teaching strategies and intensive trial teaching. In the first category, the instruction follows the child's natural interests. For example, if the child is playing with a farm puzzle, the therapist will disguise learning through play. “What animal is the white one?” “What animal says ‘oink’?” “Can you name this animal?”

In the second category, the teaching is at a faster pace and mimics natural language: "Touch the pig. Give me the sheep. What does this one say?" The goal is to get the child to quickly react appropriately.

The center will also help in developing social and life skills. For example, in the kitchen area, children will learn how to tackle chores such as loading the dishwasher.

At the center, each child will be individually assessed and then a program will be tailored to the child's specific needs. Children from 18 months to 18 years will be served at the center.

Interest in the new center has been strong and Hall and Barretto have received many inquiries from parents, as well as from people seeking employment.

For future employees, they are looking for people who are well rounded —not just people with an educational background.

“You need to be super fun, be willing to deal with aggression, have patience and be analytical,” Barretto said. “But people also need to have heart and passion.”

Along with therapy, the center will offer a parent support group. It won't be a formal class, but rather a time when parents exchange ideas, share stories and feel supported by others experiencing similar issues.

Hall said the support from the community has been wonderful. Watson Furniture in Poulsbo donated $30,000 of office furniture. Pam Wright, a retired special education teacher from the Central Kitsap School District, volunteers by preparing materials for the center's opening.

When asked what advice she'd give to parents whose child has received an autism diagnosis, Hall said, “Don't give up. They are beautiful people and sometimes that gets missed when you are a parent and you think your child needs to be perfect,” she said. “Because of the way they approach life, there is a real softness to them.”

Emma’s sequels of delight once again filled the room, and her mom paused a moment a smiles.

“Can’t we help do this for others?” she asked.

Olypmic Peninsula Autism Center

3500 Bucklin Hill Road, Silverdale, (360) 337-2222.    www.

Open house Oct. 27 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and  Oct. 28 from 1-5 p.m. Center opens Nov. 1.

The center is approved as aTricare provider. See the website for more details.


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