Governor Beshear visits autism center

PRESTONSBURG, Ky. (Feb. 22, 2011) – Gov. Steve Beshear visited the newly created Highlands Center for Autism, part of the nonprofit Highlands Regional Medical Center (HRMC). The center was made possible by a $360,000 Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) grant. Currently, seven employees have been hired at the center.

The ARC grant supported the purchase of equipment and furnishings for the center as well as outreach services to families of autistic children. The new facility provides educational and health services for autistic children from eastern Kentucky.

“Protecting and supporting our most vulnerable citizens is a priority of my administration,” said Gov. Beshear, who is the 2011 states’ co-chair of the ARC. “Early intervention should ease some challenges for autistic individuals throughout the region, and offer a supportive learning environment. These are the kinds of improvements I am proud to oversee as states’ co-chair of the Appalachian Regional Commission.”

The center operates as a year-round private dayschool and accepts students from earliest diagnosis through school age. The school currently accommodates seven students, with plans for further expansion to accommodate 50 students and provide 50 jobs.

ARC funding has been utilized to purchase necessary equipment required for the center, including a new playground system; a small passenger van for student transportation; IT equipment; a security and monitoring system; educational equipment and supplies; and classroom and office furnishings. Outreach services include an informational newsletter and website information updates on the status of program capacity development.

“Autism is on the rise in Eastern Kentucky and all of Central Appalachia,” said Department for Local Government Commissioner and ARC alternate Tony Wilder. “This facility is designed to accommodate the educational, health, and emotional needs of autistic children and will be an accessible and valuable resource for Appalachian families.”

By providing early childhood education and treatment, the center will address a range of learning issues and afford autistic children with opportunities for educational achievement. The facility will also partner with local school districts to offer specialized programs for the students. In addition, the center will provide access to health care professionals and health care services.

“I am a strong supporter of the Highlands Center for Autism, so I’m extremely pleased to see this grant come through for them,” said House Speaker Greg Stumbo of Prestonsburg. “I know the center will put it to great use and add to the wonderful care that is already making a world of difference in these children’s lives.”

“The Appalachian Regional Commission grants are doing exactly what they are designed to do for us here in Eastern Kentucky,” said Sen. Johnny Ray Turner of Prestonsburg. “This grant will allow us to fund a very worthy project – the newly created Highlands Center for Autism in Prestonsburg. Prestonsburg and Floyd County are fortunate to have this new facility and the Highlands Regional Medical Center to provide educational and health services for autistic children in Eastern Kentucky.”

Established by Congress in 1965, ARC partners with federal, state and local governments in efforts to support sustainable community and economic growth throughout Appalachia. ARC funds projects ranging from education and job training to housing and business expansion, healthcare, transportation and infrastructure development. Kentucky’s 54 most eastern and south-central counties qualify for ARC funding.

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