Riverbend Youth Center hopes to expand autism programs in South Bend

Riverbend Youth Center// WSBT 22

A facility hoping to help kids with autism will soon open in South Bend.

The Riverbend Youth Center is located downtown on Niles Avenue in the former Madison Center building. It's already running a small pilot school program with four children

While there are autism centers and services in the region, there are very few in our immediate area and there are often long waiting lists for those services.

The goal is that by the start of next school year there will be a private K-12 school for children with autism and similar disorders.

For Kathie Siders’s grandson, John, going to school used to be upsetting.

"We use to have battles, daily, you can't make me go to school, he'd hide in closets,” said Sinders.

John, who has autism, was the one who found Riverbend on his IPAD. He made the cut for the pilot program and hopes to be here through high school.

"Now it's hurry up, I don't want to be late. This is the first year he's got perfect attendance. He just loves coming here,” Sinders said.

Riverbend is in the process of getting state accreditation. If they get it, the school would be able to serve up to 100 children in smaller classroom sizes.

Tuition amounts have not been set but it plans to accept school vouchers.

"We really want to be able to help those families that are in need of services that may not fit into a public school system or private school, but need additional one-on-one assistance,” said Director of Education, Leanne Sargent-Suarez.

In addition, organizers plan to open an outpatient therapy clinic in February, residential care center in the Summer and an acute care facility for children by the end of the year.

"That's really key for us, finding the right people with the right temperament and then at the same time, you have to take care of your people and give them the right training and tools and put them in situations where they can be successful to put your kids in a situation to be successful,” said Chief Executive Officer, Joshua Smith.

John is one example of that success. His confidence has grown and his grandmother credits the program. She says it's made a world of difference.

"I wish that it had been here earlier but I’m very grateful that it's here now,” Siders said.

Riverbend has seven employees right now, but expects to hire more than 200 once the facility is fully operating.

There will be two open houses for the public to visit and learn more about the school and other programs.

The first open house will be on February 18 from 2:00-3:30 p.m.

The second open house will be on February 21 from 6:00-7:30 p.m.

Get more details on the program on their website:

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