Autism is a spectrum disorder containing many different “levels” that fall under an “umbrella.” Under the “umbrella” there are high functioning individuals who can talk and communicate their feelings and thoughts like familiar characters from movies such as “I Am Sam,” and “Rain Man.” However, the opposite extreme contains subjects who may never progress beyond the mental age of 2-3 years old, or younger. What kind of places can these children go to for help? What kinds of facilities offer proven therapies and assistance? The Society for Treatment of Autism (STA), and Margaret House specifically, is one answer to this question.
Margaret House, named after its first clinician, Margaret Horne, was initially run from a duplex located by the Calgary Children’s Hospital in 1973. The program was full immediately as it seemed that individuals with autism were popping up all over the place. Later that year, Margaret left the program to pursue other interests.
Our Lady of the Lords Catholic Brotherhood, which had, since 1956, been running a home for Métis juvenile delinquents in the building presently owned an operated by Society for Treatment of Autism (STA), laid eyes on the cute little children with autism and immediately decided to become their caregivers. It was a love at first sight kind of thing. At this point there were 22 residents in Margaret House. The primary goal was to provide food, clothing, shelter, and spiritual fulfillment to the children on a permanent basis. Ideally those accepted to the program would spend their entire lifetime in residential care and as such therapy programs were minimal.
In 1974, the realities of autism set in and the Brotherhood, too, decided to pursue other things. The Calgary Mental Health Involvement Society for a short time provided funding and care until, in 1975, the process of incorporation for STA began. In 1976 Society for Treatment of Autism was officially named, and funding through government grants began.
Before the present director, Dave Mikkelson, accepted his position in 1980 he requested that two criteria be fulfilled: 1) Establishment of a discharge age (which would promote individual living in adults with autism) and 2) Development and endorsement of proactive treatment, which would enable therapy and behavior modification programs to be set in motion. Needless to say these goals were met and STA has advocated many programs (discussed below) since.
Currently running the Society, alongside Dave Mikkelson, is a Board of Directors comprised of volunteer parents (not necessarily of clients) as well as interested and informed members of the community. STA is a non-profit organization. Government funding allows it to maintain 130 full time equivalent staff and an additional 40 part time employees. Positions range from psychologists, social workers, specific therapists (such as sensory, speech and communication), behavior modification therapists, to students who are currently enrolled in psychology related programs and accounting and office management staff as well as building maintenance crews. There’s lots of room for advancement and change throughout the society; new therapists/rehabilitation workers are always in high demand. The society is thus an uplifting and educational experience for all involved.
Currently, in the residential program, there are 14 clients aged 7-17 years. Outside of Margaret House, STA provides services to an average of 100 individuals per year. These include parent and teacher supports such as literature, advisors, and training sessions, consulting services and specific therapies, as well as Early Intervention Program (EIP) containing both home and center based components (the battle against autism is more easily fought when it is encountered at a younger age) and Transition Program which helps children make the transition from home (EIP) to school. Both of these programs are very beneficial to the higher functioning kids with autism. One of the main goals of each program is to give the parents/guardians/teachers the skills to work with their children outside of STA’s assistance. Ideally, It would be great if there were no need for residential programs, such as Margaret House.
At a glance, Dave Mikkelson views the “journey into active treatment” and “the development of the early intervention program (which wavered at only 5 clients for the first three years and now caters to over 30)” as the most prominent highlights of STA’s past. In STA future Dave hopes “we’ll see consolidation and better providing of all services, an increase in community outreach, an increase in diagnostic capabilities, and more activity within the school boards.” These goals will be reached through the “Capital Campaign” which will be launched in May, 2003. Look for an overview of this campaign in an upcoming Voice issue.
For more information, including employment opportunities, visit the STA website at http://www.sta-ab.com.
STA Website: http://www.sta-ab.com/