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Highlands Hospital autism center licensed site for Cleveland Clinic

| Thursday, Feb. 20, 2014, 9:51 p.m.
Marilyn Forbes | For the Daily Courier
Unveiling its new logo are staff members from the Highlands Hospital Regional Center for Autism. From left are (front) Chantel Liberty, Elizabeth Rogner and Nicole Hixson; (back) Alysha Sweitzer, Jordan Morran, Amanda Neiderhiser, Ann Nicholson, Melissa Komenda and Amanda Freger.

Highlands Hospital Regional Center for Autism announced on Thursday that it is the first licensed site of Cleveland Clinic Children's Center for Autism in the United States.

The designation allows the facility in Bullskin to expand its outreach to the community and to benefit from the research and expertise offered by the Cleveland Clinic.

“They helped to make our vision of opening an autism center a reality,” said Michelle Cunningham, chief executive officer of Highlands Hospital.

Cunningham said the designation is a testament of the Fayette County clinic's success.

“This shows that our clinic has reached a level of excellence that is equal to the Cleveland Clinic Children's Center. We are proud to reach such an outstanding milestone for our facility,” she said. “Our children and families will now have the highest access to autism services in the Laurel Highlands region.”

The Highlands clinic opened in 2010 with four students; the number has more than doubled.

“As our first licensed site, Highlands Hospital Center for Autism will benefit from the best practices and research-driven benchmarks we have successfully employed at Cleveland Clinic Children's Center for Autism,” said Travis Haycook, assistant director for Cleveland Clinic Autism Development Solutions. “This site is working at a level that we truly feel is at the top of their game. It is great to see what is happening here and to see the changes in the children. We are dedicated to supporting this program for years to come.”

Highlands will follow the exact same model of diagnostic evaluation and treatment offered at Cleveland Clinic Children's Center for Autism.

The Highlands Hospital Center for Autism has been successful in educating children with spectrum disorders once they have been diagnosed. It is considering to provide vocational training so that young adults can develop skills necessary to enter the workforce with confidence. The center serves people ages 5 to 21.

The staff from the Highlands clinic was recognized on Thursday for their drive and dedication to the program and for their efforts and work with the children.

Amanda Freger, director of autism services at Highlands Hospital, said she appreciates Cleveland Clinic for its support and backing.

“The support from Cleveland has been amazing,” Freger said. “If it wasn't for them, we wouldn't be here today.”

Chuck Gallagher of Star Junction provided a testament to the Highlands clinic during the recognition program on Thursday. His 8-year-old autistic twin sons, Charles and Hunter, attend the Highlands center.

“We are honored to have our children in the Highlands Clinic for Autism,” Gallagher said. “We feel that the center has worked wonders. Our boys can now dress themselves, they know their colors and they are starting to write. We thank you for what you have brought to Fayette County. We can't tell you how much we are grateful.”

Cunningham said Fayette County has one of the highest rates of autism in Pennsylvania. Highlands Hospital is only one of five hospitals to mirror Cleveland Clinic's autism program.

Marilyn Forbes is a contributing writer.

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