The Rich Center for Autism

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The Rich Center for Autism

Help and Hope for Families Facing Autism

Farai and Nathan Tsiga
Farai Tsiga and his son, Nathan, 9, spend time together in a classroom at the Rich Center for Autism on the YSU Campus.

Farai Tsiga remembers the day he and his wife, Patience, received the difficult news that their 3-year-old son, Nathan, had been diagnosed with autism. “We got in the car and I told my wife, ‘I’m going to cry now, and I won’t cry about autism ever again.’ And we did that.”

Tsiga, a research analyst, and his wife, a nurse, combined their expertise to find early intervention for Nathan. Living in Winchester, Va., at the time, they searched the East Coast, willing to relocate for the right fit. They found that public education offerings for children with autism were very limited, and private options were extremely expensive ­– the national average therapy cost for a child with autism is $60,000 a year.

Then one day, the couple’s Google search turned up the Rich Center for Autism at YSU. Patience had lived in the area as a young adult, so the location was familiar – and the center offers Applied Behavior Analysis, or ABA Therapy, an intensive and sought-after intervention for children with autism. They were impressed with the 2/1 student-teacher ratio, and the fact that all Rich Center services are offered free of charge.

The Tsigas relocated immediately. “I had just started a business, and I knew I could work anywhere,” Farai said, “but we would have been willing to move to Timbuktu to help our son.”

Nathan was 4 when he arrived at the Rich Center in 2012 – he had to be carried into class, didn’t speak at all and was still in diapers – but the Tsigas were hopeful.

Now, five years later, his parents and teachers agree that Nathan’s progress has been remarkable. He’s in third grade in a Rich Center transition program at St. Charles School, Boardman, attending classes with typical children, with the support of a Rich Center teacher. He reads and speaks well, he’s an excellent speller and is considered “high functioning” – definitely a success story for the Rich Center.

Located in Fedor Hall on the YSU campus, the Rich Center for Autism serves students diagnosed with autism, ages 2 ½ through 21, from across the Northeast Ohio/Northwest Pennsylvania region. Just as important, as a component of the Beeghly College of Education, the Rich Center serves as a living laboratory and research center for YSU students majoring in Special Education, Dietetics, Psychology and Nursing.

Demand for the center’s services have increased exponentially since its founding in 1995, said Director Melanie Carfolo, and more space is desperately needed. Funds from the “We See Tomorrow” campaign will be used to more than double the size of the center, adding a Lifeskills Learning Center, upgrading the elevator to meet ADA standards, upgrading existing classrooms and creating new therapy rooms.