Providing healing and hope for special needs children

The Means Report

AUGUSTA, Ga. (WJBF) – Center For New Beginnings hopes that you will consider them as you make plans for your end of year giving. Faith Edmondson shares how they help children and families with special needs.

Brad Means: Faith, thank you for what you do and for being with us today. We appreciate it.

Faith Edmondson: Thank you for having us.

Brad Means: What kind of special needs kids get to come to you? Is it really young ones? All ages? How’s it work as far as who qualifies?

Faith Edmondson: We see kids from toddlers all the way up to young adults. That was pretty broad range in there. Primarily we serve kids on the autism spectrum, but we do have quite a wide variety of special needs that come in and receive services with us.

Brad Means: And it’s not just Augusta either you all. And I was surprised to learn this before we started talking survey wide range of folks in this area.

Faith Edmondson: Yeah, we serve seven counties around the CSRA. We have three different locations in Evans, our main office, which is in Burt County in Waynesboro. And then another clinic that we opened up this year in Millen in Jenkins County.

Brad Means: So what happens when somebody comes to the “Center for New Beginnings” are there doctors there, are there therapy sessions, do you just watch the kids for the day while the parents do stuff? How’s it work?

Faith Edmondson: Great question. We don’t have positions most of the time we’re referred for services by a physician and we provide ABA therapy, which is specifically for kids with autism. It’s one of the most accepted forms of therapy for kids on the autism spectrum. And we have therapists on site. We actually have a staff of about 46 that we serve between our administrative staff and our direct therapists. And we work hand in hand with occupational speech and physical therapists as well.

Brad Means: How do you know when you’re making progress with a child?

Faith Edmondson: So ABA is very data-driven. So everything we’re doing is recorded with data points of what kind of progress we’re looking for with goals and targets. It’s all very much laid out on an individual treatment plan for each child. And so we get to actually track the progress through graphs and all that sort of thing. But it’s also very important to see the progress on a really practical, functional level for the parents to see. Whether it’s in communication and our self care skills or relationship pieces. And it really varies by age and function level as to what it is we’re working on with them. We cover a really wide range of skills.

Brad Means: Do you all get any help from insurance? Will folks coverage at least offset some of the expenses involved here?

Faith Edmondson: Yes, as of about two and a half years ago, insurance in Georgia started covering ABA for the first time. So we’ve been around for over 15 years and prior to that, everything was just on a donation basis, but we have really been able to expand the number of service hours that we cover once insurance kind of kicked in and we were able to start billing for some of that through the different companies.

Brad Means: Kind of take me through what a typical success story might look like. A child comes to you and the limitations that that child has versus when they leave you, and they’re different.

Faith Edmondson: That’s so hard because they’re all so different and unique. But we have some, especially if they’re coming in on the younger age who maybe three or four and don’t have any language yet, or oftentimes still are not toilet trained at that age and are just not able to move in and function in a school kind of setting that we really work hard on that basic types of communication, being able to respond to it. I mean, even just starting with, yes-no questions, being able to respond and look for their name when they’re called. Things that most parents would just take for granted that you start with your very small newborns that you start talking to them and seeing responses. We’re working on those types of skills with our older children. How to eat. We get kids who end up with very limited diets. So they may eat two or three food types. And so we work on feeding skills, just a huge variety of things. One of the little guys who started with us when he was about two and a half, just went into kindergarten this year and we heard one of the best phrases that we could from a teacher. And that was, “Why is he getting ABA? I don’t see anything wrong with him.” But when he first came in, he was non-verbal and didn’t have any of the eye contact with other, didn’t play, didn’t know how to interact, was headbanging, where he would hit his head into the floor and just unable to really engage with anybody but mom at that point. And even that was really difficult. So he has just come so far that he can function in a typical classroom setting. And just not even be noticed that those things. I’m still a part of his life to a degree, but he’s really moved far beyond that. And so he has a really good potential of doing really well in school for the rest of his life, where we’ve given him a good foundation to start with.

Brad Means: Yes I was gonna ask you about the special ed programs that are in most of our schools, the teachers, and administrators there do such a wonderful job. It sounds like you help the students. Once they get into the special education programs in our schools, be better students be better prepared for that academic setting, right?

Faith Edmondson: Mm-hmm. So some of that is working on the front end before they get into school, but we do have good working relationships with the school systems in the area. And we actually go in and do help and trainings for teachers for head starts, different daycare centers, churches who are putting in special needs ministries, lots of things like that. So we really try to reach out into the community and make it a viable place for our kids to be. That we want them to be included in everyday life. These are not kids that we want to just sit at home and be on some kind of electronic device because it keeps them calm and quiet.

Brad Means: Sure.

Faith Edmondson: They’re amazing people who can engage in society. And we’re excited about that.

Brad Means: I know you mentioned that you serve all age groups, but early intervention when it comes to children with special needs is early intervention important?

Faith Edmondson: Yes.

Brad Means: Yeah. How young can they come? And you said babies, right?

Faith Edmondson: We started about 18 to 24 months. Typically some of the younger kids that we see coming in. Now, it’s just often when you start getting the diagnosis from physicians coming in.

Brad Means: What happens when they leave you, when they age out?

Faith Edmondson: Actually we’ve started raising the ceiling. Some of the kids that I started working with many years ago, who were a first grader now in their early twenties. And we have expanded into the young adult program to include them because as they finished out school, but there’s just not a lot for them to do, particularly in the rural counties where we serve. So we really try to provide ongoing life skills and supports for some of our kids that might be, they’re never gonna drive the particular ones that are working with. So we work on what are the steps, call an Uber. We can teach those things one by one. So it really, from all the little ones that we’re teaching, some of this basic communication to some of our older ones on how to run a microwave and how to call an Uber to get somewhere, how to fill out a form, basic job skills. So it’s a pretty wide range of things that we target.

Brad Means: What do you need from us? What can the community do to help you do your job better?

Faith Edmondson: At this point, a lot of what we could really use are the same things that everybody else is asking for. Cleaning supplies. We go through a tremendous amount of that right now, with all of the pieces of equipment that we use and paper goods, individually wrapped snacks. We do a lot of feeding work that requires snacks and copy paper. Things like that are really quite helpful. On a bigger end would be for each of our three clinics would be a sandbox that has a tight closing lid on it. So it’s pretty broad range. We also have volunteers that we take in and work with some of our special projects. You go through trainings, classes with us and can come in and just be a second person in a room. When we have kids who have extra needs.

Brad Means: So many families out there don’t know where to turn. When they realize that they have a special needs child, their baby that’s coming to their lives is going to need some assistance. And then all of a sudden Faith, you’re this bright light, you’re this turning point in their lives. What made you do this? What led you to this job to be somebody who can change so many lives?

Faith Edmondson: I had a lot of interaction with people with special needs early on in my life. And it just was part of my heart and got into this and just really enjoyed it in my early twenties. I’ve got my background is in counseling. That’s actually what I came on at the center to do work with families with special needs in particular. And then as I went through those processes and had my own children, three of my four children have special needs. So it is part of my life and my heart now. And I understand and relate to that as a parent now, not just a therapist.

Brad Means: Well, we appreciate you opening your heart to this community, Faith. And for helping so many families and all my best to yours. And certainly to those of your clients, we appreciate you so much.

Faith Edmondson: I appreciate your and spreading the word about all the good things that are happening in our community. We appreciate it.

Brad Means: Yes Ma’am, Faith Edmondson, “Center for New Beginnings.” We appreciate you.

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The Means Report first aired in January of 2009 offering coverage that you cannot get from a daily newscast. Forget about quick soundbytes -- we deliver an in-depth perspective on the biggest stories. If they are making news on the local or national level, you will find them on the set of The Means Report. Hosted by WJBF NewsChannel 6 anchor, Brad Means, The Means Report covers the topics impacting your life, your town, your state, and your future.