Leander - Cedar Park | August 2020

NONPROFIT Imagine AWay

BY BRIAN PERDUE

For 10 years, Leander-based charity has funded early childhood therapy for autistic children I t started 12 years ago with a phone call. Joel Price sat in the waiting

have a little better insurance,” he said. Camilo and Erika Guiterrez’s son, Alex, has been in the Imagine AWay program for more than two years. When Alex, now 4, was diagnosed, Erika, a private school teacher, used the summer to search for ways to supple- ment their insurance, which did not cover the cost of Alex’s recommended therapy. They found Imagine AWay, applied and were accepted “pretty quickly,” Erika said. Alex now receives all of his recom- mended treatment: 40 hours of ABA therapy and 90 minutes of speech therapy each week. “He’s responded so, so well to speech, to ABA [applied behavior analysis], and he’s doing amazing,” Erika said. “He’s speaking a lot.” “IFYOUDON’TGETTHEMTHE TREATMENTEARLYONOR ACCESSTOTHESERVICESEARLY ON, THENTHEIRPOTENTIAL Camilo said family members have also noticed improvements in Alex’s behavior. “My parents and her parents live in Mexico, so when we speak with them on FaceTime, they notice that Alex is talking more,” he said. Imagine AWay cannot fund all requests—the Prices said their “most intensive” cases cost $45,000 per year—but there is a waiting list. The majority of their funding comes from their annual gala, which will be held at 6:30 p.m. Sept. 17 and be virtual, and an annual clay shoot. More gala informa- tion is on their website. Joel said the charity serves Travis County and “any county touching it,” but most of their families live in Williamson County. For children who are accepted, the charity pays the remainder of the therapy bill not covered by insurance or the family. FOR DEVELOPMENT, COMMUNICATIONAND SELFSUSTAINABILITYAS ADULTS ISGREATLYDIMINISHED. CAROLYN PRICE, IMAGINE A WAY COFOUNDER

room of an autism therapy clinic to pick up his youngest son, Joshua, who had been diagnosed as on the autism spectrum. “I was there to pick him up one day. He was about three months [into his treatment], and he was making great progress,” Joel said. Then the clinic’s phone rang. The receptionist answered. “You could tell it was a tense conversation, that something wasn’t right,” Joel said. “What it ended up being was someone came in needing help for their child. [Doctors] said, ‘You need to do three days of speech and occupational therapy every week,’ but the family could only aord one [day of therapy].” Joel drove home and spoke to his wife, Carolyn. That day, they decided to start raising money for families who lacked the resources to get the therapy their children on the spectrum needed. For two years, the couple helped raise money for Autism Speaks, an international autism advocacy charity. They decided to strike out on their own after they learned that Autism Speaks was unable to provide what percentage of the money it raised was spent locally. In June 2010, the Prices founded Imagine AWay to help families—and to ensure the money raised for families stayed in the Austin area. The Prices moved their oce from downtown Austin to Old Town Leander in 2016. The nonprot provides therapy funding to 28 children between the ages of 2 and 7. “You’ve got people that qualify for Medicaid, and the state will pay for those services. Then you’ve got people who can aord it,” Joel said. “And then you have people in the middle.” Those people in the middle are working, middle-class families, Joel said. Helping families deal with autism immediately after a diagnosis is a large help. “It gives the family time to breathe, to understandwhat they’re dealingwith andmaybe change jobs towhere they

Imagine AWay co-founders Joel and Carolyn Price (standing) are pictured on the front porch of their oce in Old Town Leander with Alex, 4, and Camilo Gutierrez. (Brian Perdue/Community Impact Newspaper)

TYPES OF THERAPY

“The family has to get the child to therapy and back several times a week,” Joel said. The Prices said they have seen seis- mic changes to how autism is perceived and its treatment. Carolyn said that, 10 years ago, some insurers would not pay for ABA—a play- based therapy that encourages positive behavior and is considered to be the most eective therapy for most autism patients. Joel said the public’s knowledge of autism, thanks in large part to the far-reaching advocacy of Autism Speaks, has improved. “There’s more acceptance. Take a kid when they’re young. People may look at them and say, ‘Oh my gosh, what a terrible child doing x, y or z,’” he said. “Now people may step back and have a second thought. Perhaps that kid has special needs versus just thinking their parents have done a terrible job of raising them.” They realized that Imagine A Way would probably never have the resources to help all autism patients, so the Prices said they focused on the early development of autistic children. Carolyn said therapy and education at that age—just like early childhood education for other children—can make the greatest impact. “If you don’t get them the treatment early on or access to the services early on, then their potential for develop- ment, communication and self-sustain- ability as adults is greatly diminished,” Carolyn said. “So now you’ve got this burden on society, where your kids are in some sort of assisted living for their entire life, versus you get them access to therapies and they have a much better chance of living independently.”

Joel and Carolyn Price, co-founders of Imagine A Way, say these are the three most frequent autism spectrum therapies funded by their Leander- based charity. APPLIED BEHAVIOR ANALYSIS (ABA) promotes positive behavior, such as eective communication and paying attention, while discouraging negative behavior, such as tantrums and aggression. SPEECH THERAPY focuses on improving verbal, nonverbal and social communication and begins with an evaluation by a speech- language pathologist. OCCUPATIONAL THERAPY teaches everyday tasks to help the patient live as independently as possible, focusing on skills such as dressing, eating, bathing and interacting with others. SOURCES: CENTERS FOR DISEASE CONTROL AND PREVENTION, IMAGINE A WAYCOMMUNITY IMPACT NEWSPAPER

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ImagineAWay 206 N. West Drive, Leander 512-220-4324 www.imagineaway.org Hours: Mon.-Fri. 8:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m., closed Sat.-Sun.

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