This January marks the 11th anniversary of the Autism Foundation of Tennessee (D/B/A AutismETC). In honor of this anniversary, we wanted to share the story of our founders, Karen and Steve Blake. The Blakes founded the organization in 2008 to help families affected by autism.
The Blake family consists of (Dad) Steve, (Mom) Karen, and their son Matthew. Matthew was born in Atlanta, Georgia. Karen, an experienced speech-language pathologist, was well-versed in the signs of Autism Spectrum Disorder. She was acutely aware of the signs she was seeing in her son around the time he turned two years of age. Matthew was diagnosed by a developmental pediatrician in 2003 and immediately began receiving ABA therapy. When Matthew was three, he began attending an autism center that offered an ABA day therapy program. Matthew showed great progress as a result of the program.
When Matthew turned four, the family moved to Nashville, Tennessee. Karen immediately began searching for an autism center or an ABA provider. However, she was not able to find the services she knew Matthew needed. Karen remembers when Matthew started kindergarten, “He began to regress so I knew something had to be done.” An idea was formed, and Karen realized she had a new calling – to create a program
similar to the Atlanta program for kids with autism in Middle Tennessee. Karen contacted attorneys, created a business plan, recruited staff and opened the Autism Education Center in 2007.
The Center first opened on Wilson Pike Circle in Brentwood. However, the “strip mall” environment was not conducive to helping kids. Therefore, in 2010, the Center moved into its current location, situated on a 6-acre farm on Holt Road in Nashville. That same year, a second location was opened in Clarksville, Tennessee. Since its inception, the Center has served over 500 families.
In the past year alone, over 400 families have contacted the Center for services.
When asked about the goals and future of AutismETC, Karen said: “We want to be there to meet the needs of families with a child on the spectrum. The fact that families continue to contact us daily for help proves the need still exists in the community. We areuniquely positioned to respond to their needs.”
Karen and Steve are both very excited about the new building that is nearing completion in Clarksville. Karen said: “It is like a dream come true. It has been my hope to have a state of the art, specialized building to meet the needs of children affected byautism. Children of all ages will receive services ranging from basic communication skills to life skills (e.g., cooking, cleaning, bathing, etc.) in the new functional communication wing.
Karen says she has learned so much working with the various therapists and families at AutismETC. She feels it has given her a deep understanding of the unique needs these families face each day.
In closing, let us loop back to the reason Karen and Steve started this organization: Matthew. The young boy just diagnosed with autism is now a 17-year-old young man. Matthew has made great progress over the years. He currently attends Ravenwood High School, working on an Occupational Diploma. At the recent staff Christmas Party, he became the life of the party when he entertained the staff as he sang karaoke! Further proof that given the right tools and support to succeed, children on the autism spectrum can have a productive and bright future.