With autism rates on the rise, Valley Children’s Hospital and the Autism Center @ Fresno State will unite to create a satellite center at the Madera County medical facility this summer that will provide early intervention services for Central Valley children.


Tim Yeager

The new center was announced at a special Autism Awareness Month reception Friday night by Tim Yeager, executive director of the Behavioral Sciences Institute that operates the center through the Fresno State’s College of Science and Mathematics.

Part of a long term vision to battle autism locally, the institute plan was presented to Dr. Joseph I. Castro, Fresno State president, and Todd Suntrapak, Valley Children’s president and CEO and about 100 guests representing valley organizations affected by the rising rates of autism.

“One out of 150 kids was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder in 2000 and now it is one out of 66,” said Yeager, whose center currently operates out of the 1950s-built lab school on the Fresno State campus. “We seek to be a resource to other providers in our community. We can do more together than apart.”

The satellite center will open at Valley Children’s new Therapy Center, located on the same campus as the Hospital at 9300 Valley Children’s Place in Madera.

“We are two organizations solely focused on the well-being of young people and it’s time for us to come together to address the growing number of children diagnosed with autism,” Suntrapak said. “We are united in fighting for their futures. We want these children to lead as productive and happy lives as possible, despite the challenges autism presents.”

President Castro said the satellite center will allow the Autism Center @ Fresno State to expand its service to the community, while allowing for more opportunities to train undergraduate and graduate students.

“This partnership between Valley Children’s Hospital and the Autism Center at Fresno State exemplifies our vision in providing an education that prepares the next generation of health care leaders while improving the quality of life,” the university president said. “As an institute of the College of Science and Mathematics, we think it is imperative to not only provide services to our clients, but be a resource to the community through partnering with organizations and offering city wide training.”

Yeager said the partnership developed when Valley Children’s reached out to the university program in 2014 looking to improve early intervention services.

“The hospital received a large number of calls seeking services for children with autism,” Yeager said. “They also have a large number of patients who come to the hospital for diagnoses.”

Through the arrangement, Valley Children’s will provide the Fresno State program with space at no cost. Two rooms will be used for early behavior intervention, along with two office spaces for management staff. Children will be referred for services through the child’s pediatrician or through the Central Valley Regional Center, Yeager said.

The Autism Center @ Fresno State has been serving clients at its current facility in the lab school on campus through the Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) program in the Department of Psychology since opening July, 2007.

The center has served over 80 children and currently provides early intervention services to 36 children ages 18 months to six years of age for 15-35 hours a week, Yeager said.

Since 2007, 290 undergraduate students and 58 graduate students at Fresno State have received training at the Autism Center. Currently, the university center, which will remain open, trains 15 graduate students in Applied Behavior Analysis.

“We prepare a wide range of students to work in a number of related fields,” Yeager said. “And an additional campus will further the experience in training staff, and overseeing client progress.”

Through this partnership, Yeager also will be providing workshops to medical professionals on autism. He expects it pave the way for new faculty research opportunities.

“We see this as a start of a mutually beneficial relationship, with the community benefiting as a result,” Yeager said.

A specific opening date has not been set yet but Yeager hopes to dedicate the new satellite facility in early summer.

Other components of the Behavioral Sciences Institute’s long range plan that will be detailed later include more extensive services and awareness training to the Spanish speaking community, infant Autism identification and intervention, teacher and para professional training, expanding a positive-parenting class to reach more, civil servant autism awareness training, day programs for adults with disabilities, adult pre-vocational training and providing consulting services to group homes.

Other Autism Awareness Month activities include the Autism Center @ Fresno State’s first Fun and Run for Autism April 25 on campus.

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