Arizona Autism United, a nonprofit organization providing a wide variety of direct services for individuals with autism, their families and the community recently opened the doors to its new West Valley facility.
Located in Avondale, the new facility will bring vitally needed diagnostic services, therapy and resources to local families.
“We’re excited to expand access to treatment and offer an innovative model of interdisciplinary care that combines behavioral, speech and occupational therapy, as well as counseling support for family members,” said Aaron Blocher-Rubin, president and founder of Arizona Autism United.
Blocher-Rubin said he got involved in the field when he was in high school after his younger brother got diagnosed with autism. He opted to go to college at the University of California, Los Angeles, and learned more about it.
“I had the opportunity to study with a very renowned professor at the time and field of autism treatment,” he said. “I learned a lot and got very inspired and decided I wanted to do this for my career.”
After moving to the Valley in 2001, he noticed Arizona lacked a lot of the autism-based care and therapy that California had at the time. In 2006, he and a group of local families who were experiencing a shortage of quality care for children with autism founded Arizona Autism United (AZA United).
AZA United is centrally located in Phoenix and has a children’s therapy center in Mesa, but Blocher-Rubin said the organization had been planning an expansion to the West Valley three years ago.
One year after planning began, the nonprofit purchased its eventual West Valley facility.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 1 in every 36 children have been diagnosed with autism. Though due to a lack of access to testing because of distance, cost or other factors, the number of children with autism may be higher than what has been reported.
This is a problem AZA United has worked hard to attack head on, and the new facility helps that mission by providing an increase in available appointments for testing and services. Its location allows West Valley families to seek assistance close to home while avoiding the sensory overload and anxiety that long car rides can create for individuals with autism.
“We’ve been serving West Valley families for a long time, but only really in homes and on a more limited basis,” Blocher-Rubin said. “We’ve known for a long time that there is a big need in the West Valley; that’s always been true. But of course, it’s growing so much with population and families and children that the need is only increasing.”
The new facility is AZA United’s largest expansion in the organization’s 17 years, and it offer services such as developmental and psychological assessments, ABA therapy, speech therapy, occupational therapy, coordinated care through AZA United’s Family Support Specialist program and individual and family counseling, among others.
“There is really a growing need for what we call center-based therapy,” Blocher-Rubin said. “It allows children to come for longer periods of time to get multiple different therapies in the same day. All of the therapists kind of work together as a team throughout the same location.”
Blocher-Rubin acknowledged that many autism clinics are opening up around the Valley, as there has been “a huge growth of investment in the field,” but said they are popping up quickly without necessary “leadership and thoughtfulness to really ensure quality and effective therapies.”
“For us, it was really important, especially being a nonprofit and community-based organization, that we’re really establishing kind of a model when we open a center and it’s a model that we can certainly replicate but also provides a standard for others,” he said. “So, we hope to use that to sort of elevate the standards of care throughout the community and offer different trainings and things like that.
“(We want to) really make sure that it’s a place where families are very comfortable and very confident that this is a good place to leave my child or take my child to for their critical therapies.
“We want to make sure that we’re setting a good standard of what that could and should look like.”