Rochester autism center marks 10-year milestone

With just two students in a makeshift facility at the start, program director Jon Sailer had no idea what the Rochester Center for Autism would become.

"This was just a direct line for me to put my psychology major to work," he said. "Plus, I really enjoyed, and still enjoy, the one-on-one instruction with kids.

"But that didn't mean we would end up with something like this. Sometimes, it's hard to believe what we are and what we can do," he said.

Today, in the middle of Autism Awareness month, the center is celebrating its 10-year anniversary.

Since opening in April 2004, Sailer has followed a philosophy of creating a fun learning environment with tailored teaching to meet each child's needs.


And there have been many kids and many challenges.

The center primarily addresses those with Autism Spectrum Disorders, a group with developmental disabilities, essentially defined as childhood-onset deficits in social reciprocity, communication and repetitive behaviors or interests, each of which can occur at different times with different levels of severity.

"It can be tough, yes, and the victories might be slow and almost unnoticeable, but in time, they are there," Sailer said. "If you weren't working with them one-on-one, you might not notice, but our staff does. It might be that a child didn't talk at all at first, not socially typical for sure, then all of a sudden a simple word, or words, and then even just barely heard."

The Center, an Applied Behavior Analysis service provider, provides therapy for 70 students, some in-home and some at the center. To help do the work, there are 40 therapists and 15 supervisors.

The students are between the ages of 1 and 14, with the most clients being 4 and 5 years old. Students typically are there for three years, with the longest stays six or seven years.

The number of clients this year is the center's largest, and there still are 30 on a waiting list.

Each child that gets in receives the ABA program, providing one-on-one center-based and in-home therapy. ABA is a scientific approach to understanding behavior and how it is affected by the environment, using reinforcement to shape responses to help children reach their individual goals.

Among those goals is to advance beyond needing the center's services and to enter the public schools.


"We and the Rochester School District have the same end goal, and that's getting our kids in the schools," Sailer said. "They are very good about working with us to do just that."

Overall, the Center has served more than 150 kids, and employs more than 60 staff members.

"I am humbled by the dedication of our families, our staff and our community, Sailer said. "Our initial goal in starting the center remains the same: to provide a nurturing environment where everyone can learn. Words cannot describe the appreciation I feel for what we have built together."

Tim Grice is a Rochester freelance writer.


Autism facts

— According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, every 11 minutes in the U.S. a child is diagnosed with autism.

— Autism affects 1 in 64 children. That's 1 in 55 boys and 1 in 235 girls.


— Autism is the fastest-growing serious developmental disability in the U.S.

— On average, autism costs a family $60,000 a year.

— There is no medical detection or cure for autism.

— In 2012, the most recent financial year available, the National Institutes of Health directed less than 1 percent, or $169 million, of its annual budget to autism research. The NIH had a $30.86 billion budget.

What To Read Next
Get Local