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The Mission – “Helping children with autism and supporting their families”

Karen and Steve Blake founded the Autism Education and Therapy Center (Autism ETC) to help children and their families affected by autism. Here is Karen’s story:

As a Speech and Language Pathologist, I realized Matthew was not meeting many of his milestones when he was very young. I took him to be tested. At 2 years of age, Matthew was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). In terms of treatment centers for ASD, Atlanta was way ahead of the national curve, and we enrolled him in a private Applied Behavior Analysis preschool program. He started making substantial progress.

In 2005, we moved to Nashville. Matthew was 4 years old. I immediately began searching for a center-based program comparable to the program he attended in Atlanta. I soon learned I was not alone in my quest. You see, in 2005, commercial insurance plans did not cover ABA therapy. Only government-sponsored plans covered ABA services performed by a Board-Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA). BCBAs were hard to come by back then and, if you found one, the cost for services was more than most families could bear. We formed the Autism Foundation of Tennessee as a non-profit to help other families offset the cost of services.

In 2009 we opened a second center in Clarksville. We realized there was a huge need for ABA services amongst our military families. We also started providing summer camps so families would have a place for their child to play and thrive while school was out of session. As we continued to flourish, I saw the need to hire someone who had the experience to manage our unprecedented growth. So, in 2011, Rhonda Manous was hired to manage all business operations and soon assumed the Executive Director position. In 2014, a major shift occurred in the insurance landscape. With the passage of the Affordable Care Act, several insurance plans began to cover ABA services. Soon, more and more carriers joined in. Expanded ABA coverage allowed more families to be able to afford ABA services.

Fast forward to 2019: a monumental year for us:

  • Tennessee-mandated insurance coverage for ABA services. As a result, the non-profit Autism Foundation of Tennessee shifted from providing ABA therapy to children to an occupational training center for young adults with autism: Autism Career Training (ACT). ACT equips young adults with autism with the ability to learn skills so they can find jobs and create careers.
  • Autism ETC was born. We opened 2 state-of-the-art therapy centers: one in Clarksville in 2019 and one in the Nashville Opryland area in 2020. Both centers were designed by architect Mike Manous to provide children with the most up-to-date ABA therapy in a contemporary, school-like setting.
  • We began the expansion plan to Glendale, Arizona after learning a key employee was moving to the area.
  • Our premier program, the Day Therapy Program (DTP) was enhanced and expanded to include Classroom Instructors. As part of our mission to prepare students to be successful in the traditional school setting, we realized the importance of mimicking a traditional classroom, complete with instructional support.

It’s hard to believe how far we have come since 2006. For many years, we struggled to find just one BCBA. Today, we have 24 BCBAs and approximately 100 RBTs working with “our kids”. We are the premier provider of ABA services due to our team approach to each child’s success and our state-of-the-art centers complete with classrooms, gym, playground, and private therapy rooms. Rhonda Manous and I have worked diligently to hire only the best BCBAs and RBTs and to offer them special, on-going training.

Karen concluded by saying, “This has always been a labor of love for me. This work has not just been about my son or our family. It has been about all of the children and families who are affected by autism.