Full of therapy animals, crafts, toys and ice cream, Bierman Autism Center provided a day full of inclusive experiences for kids of all ages and abilities last weekend. Located at their “pretend farm,” Pawsitive Friendships and Leo’s Ice Cream truck joined in on the fun March 18.
Kids were invited to bring along their favorite stuffed animal to the farm and make their own little accessory for it to wear around. With plenty of toys to choose from, their indoor playground, a photo op with props and a barn background, multiple craft tables and a therapy goat and dogs, there was enough to keep everyone entertained for hours.
Their sensory-friendly approach is what makes Bierman’s environment perfect for all kids. The Farm-Tastic, Sensory-Friendly event was a great opportunity, not only for their students, but for parents who are interested in seeing if the center would be a good fit for their child.
Arizona has a center in both Tempe and Scottsdale that provide one-on-one center-based care for children 18 months to 9 years of age. They use naturalistic teaching through play and learning.
“It’s very individualized,” said Angie Rice, practice manager for Tempe and Scottsdale Bierman Autism Centers. “We’re able to help the kiddos truly work on their individual goals so that they can transition to school when they’re ready.”
Through incorporating all areas of childhood development and early intervention, they focus on gross motor, fine motor and social interaction skills.
“We opened our Scottsdale center in October of 2021 and we had our first graduate in August of 2022. I think that was our biggest win so far,” Rice said.
Everything they do is based on the fact that the children are always right, so if the child isn’t learning, they adopt an approach to best fit them. Everything is a cause for celebration. Everyday wins are just as important as anything else. It keeps the kids motivated long term. Focusing on fundamental skills, such as self-advocacy and communication, they’re teaching them to be more independent and able to face whatever challenges may come their way. With over 150,000 graduates from their centers scattered throughout the United States, their success is evident.
“My son’s been here for almost a year now, and it feels like a second home. He has absolutely loved his experience with all of his friends and teachers, and he has really grown as an individual,” Colleen Myers said. “He constantly asks me to come here, even on the weekend. It’s just a great place for your kids to go.”
Your Bierman team will work directly with your family to come up with the best plan of action to hit your child’s goals. They work to ensure everyone is on the same page by creating this supportive community that provides caregiver training and sibling support groups.
“My son’s name is Wyatt and he’s been here for almost a year,” Kristine Focht shared. “Before coming here he was in the public school district, and it has been like night and day. He’s had so many changes in his behavior after going here and he’s able to do so many more things that he wasn’t able to before.”
Anyone attending the event got the chance to see firsthand the impact that the human-animal bond has on these kids. Founder and CEO of Pawsitive Friendships, Tosha Tharp-Gaitanis, started the local 501(c)(3) in 2014 after seeing the progress that her dog was making with her son who has autism.
“I knew I wanted to help others make that same progress,” Tharp-Gaitanis said. “We’ve grown from myself and my French Bulldog to over 110 therapy teams serving the special needs community within Maricopa County.” They’re now looking forward to expanding to Tucson.
Bierman uses center-based ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis) Therapy, Speech Therapy, Occupational Therapy and Diagnostic Services with their students.
“I love what we do at Bierman because we’re able to find natural learning opportunities for our kids… My favorite part of the job is watching the growth over time in our learners, and helping them and their families achieve their goals to move on… even though we miss them after they move on,” said Laura Darcy, clinical director at the Tempe location. “It’s the best feeling to know that what we taught them was impactful and they’re able to fly and be successful in other places.”
Registered Behavioral Technician, Sarah Trunzo, has also found it so rewarding to watch the growth in the kids she works with, as they go from not wanting to talk to anyone to saying hi to everyone.
“I love getting to hear the parents tell us how good things are going at home,” Trunzo said. “I remember one time a little boy ran out to his mom, saying ‘hi mom,’ and she said ‘I haven’t heard his voice before.’ That was a really touching moment. It’s things like that that I love and I just can’t wait to keep growing in this career because you get to see so much good."
There are so many benefits that come with ABA Therapy, and working with a team that truly cares about the growth and wellness of every individual child.
For more information, visit the Bierman Autism Center website at biermanautism.com.