Milestones Autism Resources celebrates 15th year
Ilana Hoffer Skoff and Mia Buchwald Gelles
Milestones Autism Resources in Beachwood is on a mission to improve the lives of individuals on the autism spectrum throughout northeast Ohio by educating, coaching, and connecting the autism community with evidence-based information. For many area families, Milestones is the first call for help at each life transition, focusing on education to help families succeed.
Each year, this organization serves more than 2,400 parents, professionals, and individuals of all ages and abilities through a free autism help desk, annual conference, consultations, and training.
The organization got its start in 2003 after two mothers, Ilana Hoffer Skoff and Mia Buchwald Gelles, met in the waiting room of their children’s speech therapist office. “We were kindred spirits, both looking for the best interventions for our young children,” Skoff acknowledged. Since there were very few people using behavioral techniques in Cleveland, they decided to help each other figure out how to teach their children their next set of skills and identify how to reach their next set of goals.
“At that time, there was one trained behavior therapist in town. There were no special schools or programs,” Skoff explained.
“Doctors were hesitant to give an autism diagnosis and most public schools had no intervention specialists with special training in autism interventions. There were no special social or recreational opportunities for our children,” added Gelles. “It was very hard to find reputable resources for therapy and other information. Once we realized how much help we could be to each other, we wanted to spread the information to help others in Cleveland work more effectively with children with autism.”
The pair found that utilizing ABA (applied behavior analysis) has had the greatest impact on their children learning individual skills, developing typical play skills and mastering independence in as many areas as possible.
“ABA opened a whole new world for us. It gave us the opportunity to set goals, break down skills and teach our children in the way that was most conducive for their individualized learning. We used ABA to teach tooth brushing skills, waiting skills, greetings, answering social questions, and managing party situations,” said Gelles.
They each continue using ABA with their children, who are now young adults, to work both ‘soft skills’ like handling feedback from a supervisor, and ‘hard skills’ like learning to utilize Microsoft Excel.
Today, their children are happy, healthy and pursuing their own individual interests. Their children have worked especially hard to become as independent as possible. The proud moms shared that Mia’s son is in college studying network administration, while Ilana’s daughter has just begun working at an area nursing home. The team’s next challenge is to develop living situations to transition their young adults to live outside of their family homes.
Milestones Autism Resources offers a central location to find autism resources and activities in northeast Ohio. Parents can call the Milestones free autism help desk and speak to professionals who can answer questions and help locate resources.
“Our best advice for parents whose child has recently received an autism diagnosis is to start building a network so they don’t feel isolated,” Skoff shared. “We want parents to know we are here for them at every stage of their child’s development.”
Both mothers strongly recommend parents read the First Diagnosis Tool Kit on their website at www.milestones.org.
The organization also offers a helpful newsletter that parents can sign up for through the website to stay current on northeast Ohio autism events and learning opportunities.
Since 2003, Milestones Autism Resources has blossomed, serving more than 8,000 people in the region through training and hands-on workshops for families and professionals. In addition, their website connects caregivers and professionals to more than 1,000 autism resources and helpful tool kits, which guide caregivers on what to do if their child receives an autism diagnosis, how to deal with challenging behaviors, valuable school tools, as well as legal and mental health resources. In an effort to build a community where individuals on the autism spectrum reach their full potential as contributing members of society, the organization has resources for children, teens and adults.
This June, Skoff and Gelles head into their organization’s 15th annual conference which has grown from 400 to 1,000+ attendees, with more than 80 workshops and 50 exhibitors of interest to families, professionals and individuals with autism spectrum disorder.
This year, to kick off the conference, Milestones Autism Resources will host a special evening with Temple Grandin, PhD at Playhouse Square’s State Theatre on June 14 at 7:30 p.m. Dr. Grandin is a professor of animal science at Colorado State University and is on the autism spectrum. She has become one of the most famous spokespersons for autism, affirming that the right intervention, support and resources enable individuals with autism to achieve their potential.
The event kicks off the 15th annual Milestones Autism Spectrum Disorder Conference that will take place on Thursday, June 15 and Friday, June 16 at the Cleveland I-X Center. At this event, family members, educators, administrators, therapists, clinicians and individuals with autism will learn evidence-based strategies for all ages, stages and abilities. In addition, professional development credits for more than eight disciplines will be provided.
For more information on the organization or the conference, visit their website at milestones.org or call (216) 464-7600.