Webster Alumna Creates Center for Children with Autism
June 08, 2017
KANSAS CITY - Days after Joetta Mahan crossed the stage last week and received her master’s degree in Community Counseling at Webster University’s Kansas City location, she already was focused on a new project that would use her newly earned counseling skills. Mahan is founding a nonprofit center to work with older children with autism.
The idea came to her late last year, when she learned that there were no centers in her community that catered to that need.
“I searched and searched for a location to place my son that would assist him with transitional skills and social interaction, and there was nothing,” Mahan said. “That’s when I knew I had to take action.”
Her son was initially diagnosed with autism in 2004 when he was a toddler. Learning that he had autism was a shock as she was unfamiliar with the symptoms. It was only discovered after she took her son to several doctors to figure out why he had not started talking yet. At first, the diagnosis frightened her, as she knew very little about the spectrum disorder. Consumed with wanting to learn more, she got ahold of as much literature as she could on the topic and read it all.
She quickly learned that her son needed to learn how to socialize in order to function in society. First she learned the ways in which he communicated and worked often with advice from doctors and counselors on how to work with her son. Then she sent him to a summer camp operated through her older son’s school in the hope that by interacting with other children his age would help. “I was really scared about that,” she said, but ended up being pleased with the results. When she went to pick him up, she found that her younger son had made friends at the camp and was more social and interactive at the end of the experience. That led to more summer camps in the following years, which also resulted in positive outcomes.
“All of the worry about him being non-social went away as I saw for my-self that overcoming my fears for him allowed him to be able to grow and adapt to change, and develop social skills, which were some of the characteristics that children with autism struggle with,” Mahan said, adding that all of this work also peaked her interest in counseling, which led her to Webster’s counseling program.
Last year, she hoped to continue her son’s socialization by finding programs for older children with autism that will help them transition to adult life. After extensive searching, she could not find any organizations with programs for teenagers with autism. Then one day while explaining the problem to a casual acquaintance, the man said he also had an older child on the autism spectrum and was encountering the same road challenge. He too wanted to find a center that he could send his older child to in an attempt to further hone that child’s social skills.
The idea for a non-profit center that offered transitional skills to autistic children age 12 – 21 was born. She teamed up with her husband George Mahan and several other community members to create Adrien's Learning Center (ALC), a transitional center for autistic youth that will be located in the Metropolitan Urban Core of Kansas City.
“We will work with parents and their youth to set goals based on the information we obtain from parents and their IEP,” Mahan said. “We will teach them how to do as much on their own as their skill set will allow or with as limited assistance as possible. We will also provide counseling.”
The group recently applied for non-profit status of the new center and are working with the city to make sure that the proposed location will meet all necessary codes. The goal is to get all the necessary approvals and open the center by May of 2018.
“Working with my son has been an amazing challenge and also a tremendous inspiration,” Mahan said. “Now I hope to take what I have learned and help fill an unmet need in the community.”