Kelle Rich said working with children was her calling. She said even in high school, her nickname was "Mom."
Although the Central Texas Autism Center founder said she originally planned to study marine biology, a college senior project involving The Greenhill School of Dallas introduced her to working with children with autism and changed her mind about a career.
“I want to work with these types of learners,” said Rich, who opened CTAC in Westlake in 2003 after more than a decade working in special education. She said she was one of the first board-certified behavior analysts in Texas at the time.
Rich employs 25 therapists—22 of whom are board-certified—who conduct analysis and provide therapy to children, teens and young adults on behavior, communication and entrepreneurial skills.
Since opening, Texas passed laws mandating that behavioral therapy be covered by health insurance, Rich said. The facility has about a three-month waitlist for services, and in the past five years, Rich said the practice has spiked from 50 percent private pay to 95 percent of services covered by insurance. She said she is hiring more therapists to meet this demand.
Following a recent expansion, the center is split into two spaces. The original 5,000-square-foot space caters to children age 10 and under in the Buds program, and the 4,000-square-foot addition that opened in August houses the Bridges program.
CTAC staffers moderate a group therapy session.[/caption]
The Bridges program teaches teens and young adults texting, email etiquette and peer interaction. The renovation included a coffee shop and full kitchen to teach vocational skills. It serves the center’s employees, but eventually Rich would like to open the shop to the community, she said.
“Our goal is also to bridge into more relationships with the community and either get our kids employment out in the community, or if we have kids who can't be out safely in the community, then they may be employable in a facility like ours,” Rich said.
After years working with school districts, families and traveling with Dr. Vince Carbone, a world-renowned behavior analyst, Rich said she wanted to centralize services and hire quality professionals.