Building purchase OK'd for expansion of WMU's autism center

contact: Jeanne Baron
| WMU News

KALAMAZOO, Mich.—The Western Michigan University Board of Trustees has approved a recommendation for the University to purchase an off-campus building to house the Kalamazoo Autism Center, an education and treatment program for children diagnosed on the autism spectrum.

During their Aug. 14 meeting, trustees authorized the University to enter into an agreement with Borgess Health Alliance to purchase the former pediatric clinic at 4200 S. Westnedge Ave. in Kalamazoo at a cost of $235,000.

The approval allows WMU to move the Kalamazoo Autism Center—KAC—from its current location in a privately owned day care center on Cork Street to a building that is owned and operated by WMU.

The center was established in 2008 by Dr. Richard W. Malott, WMU professor of psychology. Malott has been directing the facility and, in conjunction with WMU's Department of Psychology, has been providing educational services to southwest Michigan children with autism and providing advanced practicum training for psychology students from the University.

Benefits of new building

The new building will be renovated to ensure the space is appropriate for the delivery of autism therapy. That renovation project is being funded as part of a $4 million contract from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services that WMU was awarded in 2014. Serving as co-principal investigators for the state contract are two WMU professors of psychology, Dr. Stephanie M. Peterson, chair of the psychology department, and Dr. Wayne Fuqua.

The contract has allowed the University to develop an Autism Center of Excellence as an umbrella for its wide range of autism-related initiatives. They include efforts to:

  • Support and expand autism assessment and treatment services.
  • Expand capacity to train graduate and undergraduate students in applied behavior analysis and other evidence-based educational and therapy approaches to autism.
  • Improve the availability and quality of resources and continuing education support services for autism practitioners.
  • Expand support services beyond childhood and adolescence to encompass adults and college students who are on the autism spectrum.

Those initiatives require additional space, but no appropriate quantity of space is available on campus. The former pediatric clinic on South Westnedge comes the closest to meeting programmatic and affordability requirements, according to WMU's campus planning office.

"WMU has been a national leader in the provision of evidence-based assessment, education and therapy services for children and adolescents on the autism spectrum. Furthermore, the Department of Psychology has a long-established reputation as a center of excellence for college students wishing to acquire skills and credentials in applied behavior analysis—the education and treatment strategy that has proven effective in improving educational, language, cognitive and social outcomes for those diagnosed with autism," Peterson says.

"The acquisition of this building will allow us to expand KAC and will provide us much needed space for personnel, students, children, and young adults who are involved with autism treatment and research. Dr. Malott will continue to have a leadership role in the delivery of services in the newly relocated center. In addition, we'll be proposing that KAC be renamed in Dr. Malott's honor to recognize his role in establishing the center and training students who have pursued careers in autism treatment," Peterson says.

Kalamazoo Autism Center

KAC is currently located in the Child Development Center, a private childcare provider in Kalamazoo. Graduate and undergraduate behavior analysis students in WMU's psychology department work one-on-one and in small groups with its children, providing intensive behavioral interventions.

The students target skills in areas such as communication; daily living, including toileting, tooth brushing and hand washing; play; and social skills. They also work to decrease tantrums, self-stimulatory behaviors and other inappropriate behaviors. As KAC continues to expand, it also will provide parent support services and be a resource on all aspects of autism assessment and treatment for the state of Michigan, and beyond.

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Other news from the August 2015 Board of Trustees meeting
Consumers Energy granted easement for 'solar garden' | Aug. 14, 2015
Trustees agree to 18-month extension on Cole-Gilmore property | Aug. 14, 2015
Trustees approve new three-year contract with AFSCME | Aug. 14, 2015