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Autism center in Fargo faces financial difficulties

FARGO The North Dakota Autism Center has a funding gap of $40,000 after its first full year of operation. The recession combined with spring flooding has made fundraising challenging, said Sandy Smith, the center's volunteer executive director. I...

FARGO

The North Dakota Autism Center has a funding gap of $40,000 after its first full year of operation.

The recession combined with spring flooding has made fundraising challenging, said Sandy Smith, the center's volunteer executive director. It also takes more to operate the center than anticipated, she said.

"I am not ready to give up on it," Smith said. "I'm trying to do everything I possibly can."

Smith said there are more than 220 children ages 3 through 21 with an autism spectrum disorder in Fargo, Moorhead and West Fargo schools.

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The autism center has provided services to 21 children at the center or while training and consulting in local schools. The center offers child care and one-on-one early intervention for children with autism spectrum disorders.

Meg Shulstad of Moorhead said she has seen improvements in her 8-year-old son John's behavior and social skills in the year he's been attending the autism center.

"I don't know what I would do without it," she said.

Traditional child care doesn't work for John because it is too loud and there are too many kids, Shulstad said.

Smith also noticed positive changes in her 7-year-old son, Tyler. He has more spontaneous speech and is better able to cope when he's upset, she said.

The center receives funding from donations, fundraisers and fees. Rates are slightly higher than traditional child care, but because the center has at least a one staff member to three client ratio and a curriculum specifically for children with autism spectrum disorder, the fees only cover a fraction of the costs, Smith said.

"I really want to keep it affordable," Smith said. "That's been my passion all along - to give families an affordable option for child care that is actually helping these children."

The center is holding a fundraiser at the Fargo Ramada Plaza and Suites on Jan. 30 that includes dinner, entertainment, dancing, and a silent and live auction.

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Nonprofit profile

What: North Dakota Autism Center Inc.

Executive Director: Sandy Smith

Where: 4733 Amber Valley Parkway, Suite 200, Fargo

Hours: 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Friday

Online: ndautismcenter.org

How to help: "Ausome Evening" fundraiser at the Fargo Ramada Plaza and Suites on Jan. 30. Social hour begins at 5:30 p.m. Register through Jan. 27 at ndautismcenter.org or (701) 277-8844. Cost: $40 per person.

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