Editor's note: In the original version of this story, Ms. Schlosser's name was misspelled in the first paragraph.
Like most 14-year-old girls, Sarah Schlosser loves getting a weekly manicure and occasionally chilling out in a massage chair.
But Sarah, who has moderate autism, has difficulty communicating and is unable to talk on the phone with friends. The Toledo teen is sensitive to loud noises and often wears ear plugs or headphones to muffle them. And she needs a place to socialize with other autistic teens and young adults.
Sarah was among the first to be enrolled at the Self Reliance Center, a program that started last August and is the only one of its kind for autistic teens in the area. Teens and young adults socialize, play games, learn to do daily chores, and work on other skills.
After attending Autism Model School, Sarah is transported to the center at 2040 West Central Ave., where, the teen said, she also enjoys puzzles and crafts. Transportation is a plus for working parents, as is being able to weigh in on what they want their children to do, said Sarah's mother, Mary Ann Prentiss.
Those with autism need structure, Ms. Prentiss said. The weekly manicure session with Ashli Kimmones, one of nine "life coaches" at the center, boosts her younger daughter's self-esteem and has helped earn her the nickname "Princess," she said.
"It's just been really wonderful," Ms. Prentiss said. "My focus for her after school is the social and recreational needs. … It's right after school. I want her to have a break."
Sandy Suboticki, the center's executive director, said the program now has 42 participants. The center can accommodate eight more, ages 12 to 22, after which it will start a waiting list.
Autistic teens and young adults are vulnerable and need a place to go after school and during the summer, Ms. Suboticki said. The center is open from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. weekdays until Aug. 12, when it returns to after-school hours.
"A lot of these kids can't be left alone at home," Ms. Suboticki said. "They'll open the door to a complete stranger."
It costs $40 to register teens and young adults for the program, and summer fees are $160 a week or $35 a day. More information is available at 419-450-1298.
The Self Reliance Center is a joint program by the Great Lakes Center for Autism, Autism Model School, and ProMedica's Toledo Children's Hospital. The partners received a five-year Ohio Department of Education grant, which started at $250,000 for the first year and diminishes as the center becomes self-sufficient.
The center is housed in a building where ProMedica's former day-care center for employees' children was located.
ProMedica is in the midst of renovating the building, which is home to the Great Lakes Center for Autism. An intensive early-intervention program for young children diagnosed with autism is scheduled to start in the building Oct. 1, and other organizations also will be housed there, said Catina Harding, executive director of the Great Lakes Center for Autism.
"The Self Reliance Center does a fantastic job for these kids," Ms. Harding said. "This was a program that just did not exist before."
Contact Julie M. McKinnon at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6087.