Kim Phan Wolff sees America as a land of freedom and opportunity. But some, especially people with disabilities, are lost due to systemic inequities.
She seeks to change that, one child at a time.
Wolff, 36, from Medina, recently opened the Wolff & Phan Autism Centeror Wolff PAC, which aims to help children with autism.
The over 6,000 square foot building in Fairlawn features interactive play areas, a gym, cafeteria, miniature town hall and more.
The center even has a dental chair, courtesy of Keystone Pediatric Dentistry.
“Kids struggle with the dentist, at the doctor’s office,” Wolff explained. “So we have the chair so we can normalize that experience of sitting in the dentist’s chair. Kids can sit in it, they can lie in the chair. It helps build their tolerance.”
The city’s mini hall layout was created to help enforce safety education, Wolff said.
According to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, autism spectrum disorder is “a developmental disorder that can lead to significant social, communication, and behavioral problems.”
The spectrum can include several conditions, such as autistic disorder, pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified, and Asperger’s syndrome.
“A lot of children with autism have rigid play and struggle with interactive play,” said Wolff, who is the center’s CEO and director of clinical services. “We teach and work with that.”
Experts say early intervention is key for children with autism
Laurie Cramer, executive director of the Autism Society of Greater Akron, said she welcomes the addition of the new Fairlawn facility.
“We are fortunate that access to therapy centers has increased significantly in northeast Ohio since the state legislature passed a law in 2014 requiring health insurers to cover applied behavior analysis. and other therapies,” Cramer said. “Before the law change, the only parents who had access to this level of early intervention were those who could afford to pay, leaving many children behind.”
On average, one in 44 children is diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum, Wolff said.
Wolff is a board-certified behavior analyst, a medical professional who studies patient behavior and creates plans to improve or modify problem behaviors.
She said she has worked with autistic children since 2005 and has been a consultant in several states.
“I am a strong advocate for our autistic children,” she said. “Parents are the biggest advocates, but even parents sometimes need support. Children thrive when they have a strong support system, and that includes community members. We’re proud to do part of the autism community.”
Cramer agreed that early intervention is crucial.
“Studies show that intensive early intervention — such as Applied Behavior Analysis — is essential for children with autism,” Cramer said. “Improving IQ, language ability, and social interaction, all building blocks of learning. In the long term, the skills learned support living as independently as possible, working, post-secondary education, and the ability to navigate and navigate. thrive in our community, just like everyone else.”
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The company is owned by the Wolff family
The concept of running a small business is not new to the Wolff family. Wolff’s husband, Corey, is part of The Wolff Bros. Supply Inc., a third generation family business headquartered in Madinah selling plumbing, electrical and HVAC products.
It was her husband’s family and family business that brought them back to the area three years ago after he finished at West Point. Corey Wolff is chief financial officer of the Wolff and Phan Autism Center.
Wolff said her husband was the one who encouraged her to start the autism center and supported her efforts.
“Most of my career has been about building the capacities of children with autism,” she said. “After living here for a few years, I felt more grounded. I spent a decade advising others and felt it was time to start my own business.”
Working with autistic children has been a way for her to give back to the community, Wolff said. Both of her parents immigrated to the United States from Vietnam. Her father left Vietnam in the mid-1970s, traveling with his brother on a raft. They first ended up in the Philippines, where they stayed for a while. His father eventually immigrated to Florida and got into the shrimp business.
Wolff’s mother came to the United States thanks to the refugee law, so it was “a little bit easier trip for her”. His parents eventually met in Boston, where Wolff grew up.
“I am the first born,” she said. “My parents came here for better opportunities in a free world.”
The needs of children with disabilities are not always taken into account
There are “a lot of needs in the United States,” Wolff said. “There isn’t enough support for families with autistic children. I’m concerned about inequities for children with disabilities, and there aren’t enough studies on autism.”
Ohio laws have changed in recent years to require health insurance to pay for therapies, but there are still limits.
“I think we were the 45th state to pass this type of law,” Cramer said. “Unfortunately, our state legislature has capped the age at which people with autism can access learning and therapy at 14.”
It impacted his own son, who is now 21, Cramer said.
“We no longer have access to ABA,” she said. “He’s not in school anymore, so he’s lost his whole learning device. People can go bankrupt because of that. My son has thrived on ABA. It breaks things down in small steps. After that, they are no longer required to cover these important learning tools.”
Several other states have since removed similar age caps.
“The learning doesn’t stop at the age of 14,” she said. “These discriminatory practices by health insurers have had a negative impact on people with autism for many years in our state and unfortunately, we have been unable to pass laws to end it.”
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Consistency with therapy and treatment is key, Wolff said.
“It’s like working out,” she said. “You can’t just hit the gym once a month and expect to see results. You have to be focused. That’s what I’m trying to get people to understand.”
Ideally, it’s best to have a diagnosis and start therapy as soon as possible — certainly before the child reaches school age, Wolff said. Currently, she has children as young as 22 months old, and with today’s technology, children can be diagnosed at an even younger age.
Wolff said there was no upper age limit for his center; the criterion is that the facility can adequately and safely meet the needs of the child. A child in need of intensive care may need 20 to 40 hours of therapy per week; a “better functioning” child may need about six to 10 hours.
Working with autistic children is not an initial career choice
Wolff said she knew she wanted to get into a medical field where she could work with children.
Wolff’s counselor recommended that he volunteer for an institution that worked in applied behavior analysis.
“I remember the owners approaching me afterwards, after my volunteer time, and saying, ‘If you want, you can come back, you have a job here,'” Wolff said.
At first, Wolff said she rejected the idea, determined to pursue her original goals of becoming a pediatrician or neonatal specialist. However, she decided to pursue a master’s degree in ABA and eventually accepted this job offer. Eventually, she decided she wanted to work full time with autistic children.
While planning her own clinic, Wolff said she “designed a space that I would want to see as a parent, if I had the chance.” She added that her three children, ages 2, 3 and 5, enjoy visiting her work.
“It’s my sign that I’ve designed a good space,” she said.
Wolff and Phan Autism Center LLC is located at 3505 Embassy Parkway, Suite 100. For details, call 330-271-6107 or visit www.wpautismcenter.com in line.
Journalist April Helms can be reached at [email protected]