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North Dakota Autism Center breaks ground on West Fargo building today

WEST FARGO - Sandy Smith formed the North Dakota Autism Center from her kitchen table in 2006, not long after her young son, Tyler, was diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder.

Sandy Smith
Sandy Smith is the president and co-founder of the North Dakota Autism Center. David Samson / The Forum

WEST FARGO - Sandy Smith formed the North Dakota Autism Center from her kitchen table in 2006, not long after her young son, Tyler, was diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder.

Today, Smith will oversee a groundbreaking ceremony to mark construction of a new 6,700-square-foot home for the organization at 647 13th Ave. E. in West Fargo.

Smith was inspired to start the nonprofit when she had difficulty securing early intervention therapy for Tyler that was approved by her employer's insurance program. Microsoft's National Premera Blue Cross Blue Shield, based in Washington, agreed to pay 80 percent of the cost of 40 hours of applied behavioral analysis per week.

The policy required therapy to be provided by a licensed and board-certified behavioral analyst. Smith was unable to find someone with those qualifications, so she paid for Tyler's treatment while continuing to search for an approved provider.

She eventually secured a qualified provider and established the ND Autism Center in order to share that and other autism-related resources and services.

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The organization offers the following programs:

• AuSome Kids Day Program, which is a center-based child care program for preschool and schoolchildren that focuses on the unique needs of children with ASD and other related disabilities or behavioral problems.

• AuSome Kids Early Intervention Program, which is a personalized one-on-one behavioral therapy program supervised by a board-certified behavior analyst.

• Behavior services such as functional behavior assessments, behavior support and intervention plans that are provided in school and home settings, and developed and monitored by a board-certified behavior analyst.

Smith believes early intervention programs such as applied behavioral analysis are crucial for children upon diagnosis, hopefully by the age of 2.

She said the benefits of early intervention could include parents' ability to remain in the workforce, a lower divorce rate, better lives for children with autism and easing the load for a school district.

Smith said the list of people and organizations to thank for the new facility is long.

At the top are owners Rob and Leanne Jordahl and Brent and Cheryl Olson of J&O Real Estate and Meridian Commercial Construction.

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The Jordahls have been strong supporters of the North Dakota Autism Center for several years. When Smith decided a new facility was in order, she turned to Rob Jordahl for real estate advice. She was surprised by what happened next.

J&O Real Estate sold a parcel of land to the organization for just over 50 percent of its $457,000 appraised value.

Due to the steep discount, the center had more than $200,000 in equity and was able to secure funding for construction from Western State Bank with no downpayment.

Meridian Commercial Construction will build the structure at cost, and has lined up many contractors to provide favorable pricing, Smith said.

Smith is also quick to thank her employer, Microsoft, for making the center and its services possible. She estimates the company has donated well over $275,000 over the years.

A great deal of thanks is also due the Smith family, which continues to co-sign for all leases and loans because the organization is still considered so new to creditors.

"It's my passion," said Smith. "I want this to work."

She hopes to move the organization into the new facility by January.

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For more information about the center, visit www.ndautismcenter.org .

Readers can reach Forum reporter Angie Wieck at (701) 241-5501

Sandy Smith
An artist rendering of the North Dakota Autism Center that will be located in West Fargo.

Angie Wieck is the business editor for The Forum. Email her at awieck@forumcomm.com
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