HAZLETON, PA -- Sandra Kirchner's 16-year-old son Brennen was 7 years old when he was diagnosed with autism. That's when she noticed the lack of resources for children and their families to get the help they need.
Now she's helping others who are going through the same thing.
"When you first get that diagnosis, it's scary, and you feel like you're alone, and nobody really knows what to do next. So our goal here is to take that pressure off of parents," explained Sandra Kirchner, a senior service navigator at the Autism Family Support Hub.
The Autism Family Support Hub is located in the Children's Service Center on North Laurel Street in Hazelton. The office aims to support families touched by autism free of charge thanks to a $7 million commitment from the AllOne Foundation over the next three years.
"This is a place that parents can come and get help and not ever have to feel like they need to downplay their stress level or downplay the difficulties that their children are having," said Kirchner.
AllOne Foundation Chairman John Moses says this center goes "from cradle to grave," supporting those with an Autism diagnosis from childhood to old age. It's also meant to help their family members.
"We have programs that will teach siblings how to work with and treat their brothers and sisters that have this issue, we have respite programs for the adult parents. It's an all-encompassing program," said Moses.
One of the office's main features is this sensory room -- including plush carpets, comfortable seating, and this sensory wall, where parents and children can come to relax.
The office also includes soft lighting and toys for children to be able to relax while visiting the Children's Service Center. It's all in an attempt to create an inviting safe space for those with autism.
"It's very important for us to create spaces that are accessible. We've made huge gains in accessibility for people with physical disabilities, but we're still lagging a little behind in making spaces that are accessible for people with Autism," said Kirchner.
To learn more about the Autism Family Support Hub and their resources, click here.