Disclaimer: The POW program has transitioned to another agency based in Maryland called Humanim and is no longer available at Aspire since the posting of this blog.
Aspire’s POW Center opened in 2019 under the leadership of Kristen Colyer, becoming the first center-based ABA program for children with autism in Harford County, Maryland. The name POW stands for Pieces of Wonder, in celebration of each child experiencing autism, and it describes the program’s impact just as well. In only two and a half years, the program has become an essential resource in the community, helping 35 children ages 2 to 6 access intensive behavioral services.
The clinical staff working at POW have facilitated dramatic growth for these young children. Kids with autism can struggle with communication, social skills, and behavioral challenges, but each child is unique in their strengths and needs. At POW, children across the autism spectrum experience success.
Behavior Therapist Allie Casey spoke from the heart about a preschooler who came to POW with many struggles. He wasn’t potty trained, couldn’t share or take turns, and communicated his distress through screaming and dropping to the ground. After little more than a year of ABA therapy, he now spends most of his time playing happily with his friends. He’s functioning in the typical range for kids his age on most skills.
Erika Greszler, Project Director, worked with one little boy who had no communication skills and few functional skills of any kind when she met him. Not surprisingly, he engaged in long tantrums that were hard to prevent or interrupt. With careful assessment and step-by-step teaching, he slowly but surely began to learn. Recently his learning has exploded, with new skills emerging every week, and minimal behavior issues. Erika supported another child who has now graduated from POW and is attending regular kindergarten in public school. When this child arrived at POW, she couldn’t tolerate being told no and frequently ran off without regard to safety. Now she responds independently to classroom rules and social expectations without running away.
Erika reflected on what the POW program has meant to the community. “It literally changes people’s lives. Not just our kids, but our families: their ability to access public spaces and relationships with their extended families, being able to function in social situations that most people take for granted. It changes everything. There are struggles, but they’re not devastating any more. They learn the strategies their children need to develop. We go from families afraid to leave the house, to families who invite the other families to a play gym for a birthday party.”
Sadly, and unrelated to the many positive outcomes, the POW Center hit some headwinds this year. The newly renovated program building developed a surprise environmental issue, and POW had to relocate to a temporary space shared with adult services. Then Kristen accepted a position at another organization, leaving a void that was hard to fill. As a result, the difficult decision was made to transition POW’s services to a new provider over the next few months.
Looking back Allie reflects, “POW has been life changing for everyone, including the staff. It changes you to see their progress and develop relationships with the kids. There will be a ripple effect because the staff and parents have become advocates. That makes a larger impact in society.”
The Aspire community is incredibly proud and grateful for all that has been accomplished at the POW Center. We’re disappointed to see the program move on, but also heartened to know that the good work started at Aspire will continue. We wish the children, their families, and the dedicated employees leaving Aspire all the best for a bright future.