Golden Key Center for Exceptional Children
Golden Key Center for Exceptional Children is filling a big gap in childcare services: helping families of children with autism.
Golden KeyCenter: A Unique Outreach to Serve Families of Special Needs Kids
It’s not difficult to imagine the stress felt by working parents of young kids who have autism and need specialized child care. Fortunately, for such families within driving distance of Canton, OH, the Golden Key Center for Exceptional Children is a godsend. “We’re very unique,” Terry Frank, executive director, acknowledges. “I don’t know of any other organizations with this main mission.”
That main mission is to serve special needs kids—especially those with autism spectrum disorder. This was the driving force behind the Center’s original launch in 2006. Today Golden Key offers a range of services: a full school-day educational program, before and after-school enrichment time, and in-home consultations. Qualifying students can also receive physical therapy, occupational therapy, and speech therapy. The Center serves children ranging from six weeks old to 12 years.
Students with autism can receive various types of scholarships to pay for their schooling. These kids follow Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) designed by school officials. “I’d say 85 to 90 percent of the students with IEPs achieve the fulfillment of those plans through their work here with us,” Mrs. Frank reports. But for her, success means more than that. “Our ultimate goal is to get these students to a place where they can return to the school district and operate successfully in that environment.” This past year, she says, 60 percent of the kindergarten students at the Center were able to move into the school system.
Some of the Center’s parents drive 45 to 60 minutes each weekday to take advantage of the Center’s offerings. Currently Golden Key’s capacity is for close to 150 children but they are planning renovations that will increase that. Frank and other staff sometimes provide in-home services where those are needed.
Frank explains that frequently the parents at Golden Key have only just received an autism diagnosis for their child. In other cases, the parents have not yet gotten an assessment, but because their child has not integrated well at a typical daycare center they’ve been asked to leave. “Parents come to us wondering what is up with their kids,” Frank says. “We can help them get their kids properly diagnosed. And we provide the right place for them,” she adds. “We understand these kids, these behaviors. We can get them the services and resources they need.”
One interesting lesson they have learned at Golden Key is that mixing developmentally delayed kids with children of normal development can benefit both. Although the Center’s first priority is serving the former, about 40 percent of currently enrolled students are the latter. “These children interact with others who are not developing as they are, and we’ve seen them be enriched by the differences they notice,” says Frank. “They are developing compassion and empathy.”