A jigsaw puzzle piece is the nationally-recognized symbol representing those who live with any level of autism. It’s a “fitting” symbol, considering all the variables that go into caring for and living with children and young adults on the spectrum.
Locally, All Pieces Fit aptly adopts the puzzle piece in their imagery, striving to promote awareness of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and assist individuals with achieving their highest level of independence. While the Merrillville-based agency saw their first child for services in January of 2018, they have grown quickly, and just moved to a brand-new location at 8438 Indiana St., Merrillville. Their new home reflects all the passion and dedication of the All Pieces Fit staff.
“This has been a dream of mine for a while,” said Brandi Smith, clinical director at All Pieces Fit.
Due to the high demand in the area for early intervention services, there are typically long wait lists for children with autism to receive the services they need. Smith recognized this issue early, which is why All Pieces Fit relocated to a larger facility and continues to recruit compassionate, reliable individuals to provide quality services to their clients.
The organization adopts the applied behavior analysis (ABA) model for its programming, which is an evidence-based intervention for children with autism. All Pieces Fit offers therapy where the child will most benefit – in the home, in the All Pieces Fit center, or out in public.
“I have worked in organizations that do a little bit of all of this, but I do know that children need a variety of options for therapy – especially our older, higher-functioning children,” Smith said. “That is why our model works.”
The goal is to offer individualized programming that aims to decrease problem behaviors while increasing appropriate replacement behaviors that children need to develop important every-day life skills. Sessions address daily tasks, and social and communication skills, all centered around how each specific child learns.
“The difference between kids with autism is that they require practice for the skills that we take for granted. We provide them the practice opportunities for things like communicating or verbalizing their needs, socializing in public, and self-care. We want the kids to be appreciated and feel appreciated for who they are,” said Samantha Mahoney, outreach coordinator and case manager for All Pieces Fit.
“Our goal is to bring out those skills that are hard for people to naturally walk up and see in a person with autism. Our children learn differently, so we try to figure out how they learn, so we can ultimately teach them the skills that they don’t have, and help bring to the surface those positive skills they do have,” Smith said.
All Pieces Fit serves children ages 18 months to 17, although the most common ages are 2 to 14. They serve families within about a 20-mile radius of their Merrillville location.
There is no shortage of expertise with the staff. Smith holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology, a bachelor’s degree in sociology, and two master’s degrees - one in business administration and one in special education. She is a Board-Certified Behavioral Analyst (BCBA).
“We have a strong, dedicated team of about 25 people working with our children and families,” Smith said.
Jamaal Smith, the agency’s chief financial officer, has two bachelor’s degrees – one in business and one in accounting, and supports the business operations of All Pieces Fit.
Mahoney, an autism mom herself, will graduate with her master’s in ABA in July, and plans to test for her BCBA certification afterwards. Her 15-year background in social work and advocacy for her son with ASD makes her an asset to the company.
“Everything I do is for my kids, but honestly, it’s advocating for evidence-based treatment that drives my passion for All Pieces Fit,” she said. “What drives me is getting parents to understand that ABA works and if you stick with it, you will see progress.”
Brandi Smith said what some might consider a small step forward actually is a huge step forward for some of their children.
“We have seen big success in children who are non-verbal, for example. For them to go from saying nothing one day, to making audible and meaningful sounds a month later is considered huge progress, and it something we celebrate,” she said. “It is fulfilling for our families to see that something is finally working. We record a lot of data, so we can visually see where success is happening.”
Within their programming model, All Pieces Fit covers social/peer/adult interactions, communication skills, grooming and self-care, academic skills, potty training, fine and gross motor skills, and other activities incorporated into daily living. Support groups, skills training, and social events are available for parents and caregivers.
Brandi Smith said early intervention is important for successful outcomes and encourages parents who suspect their child might have autism to have their child evaluated by a medical professional. Mahoney assists clients with applying for Medicaid and connecting them with other resources if needed.
For more information about All Pieces Fit, visit them online at https://www.allpiecesfit.com/.