Firefly Autism, a Lakewood-based organization that’s been helping those diagnosed with autism for more than 20 years, is seeing new programs and possibilities emerge as COVID finally starts to …
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Firefly Autism, a Lakewood-based organization that’s been helping those diagnosed with autism for more than 20 years, is seeing new programs and possibilities emerge as COVID finally starts to retreat.
Jesse Ogas, Executive Director/CEO of the nonprofit says Firefly had just moved into its newly purchased and renovated facility at 20th Avenue and Hoyt Street when COVID appeared on the horizon. They quickly transitioned to a virtual model, and since reopening to in-person services, have been successful at keeping the virus at bay.
“Firefly continues to innovate and change the landscape of autism treatment across our communities in Colorado,” Ogas said. “But we’re also now recognized as leaders, nationally and internationally, for the work that we’re doing.”
He says the new building allowed them to open a diagnostics clinic and begin offering sibling support programs. It also allowed them to create one of the most needed programs for older individuals with autism.
The Adult Social Skills program is a place for adults on the spectrum to come together, seek treatment and share the trials and tribulations of living with autism.
Although Firefly has been working with adults for years in a home-based model, the new center has opened new ways to serve this often-overlooked group.
“We’ve got several groups of like-minded individuals that are problem solving. It’s a space for them, alongside of a Board-Certified Behavioral Analyst,” Ogas said. “They begin to become a support group for one another and talk about solutions. They become a resource for other individuals in the group.”
The need for such a program became clear to Ogas while giving a tour of their old facility to a donor.
“At the end of the tour, he looked like he was irritated, and I asked if he was okay, and he said, “where was Firefly when I was growing up?””
He said the man told him he’d been diagnosed with autism in his mid-sixties and was dismayed that he’d lived his whole life without understanding what was at the root of so many of his issues. He told Ogas if he’d been diagnosed earlier in life, so many things would have made more sense.
That said, an autism diagnosis can be difficult to receive. Ogas says there’s a lot of stigmas that comes with it. So, Firefly is really focused on helping people understand what autism is and what it isn’t.
“Contrary to the old belief that kids would grow out of it, we know that autism is a life-long journey,” he says. “Not just for the individual — for the entire universe that circles that individual.”
He says whether they’re working with a child of eighteen months or a seventy-year-old adult, they’re creating support systems to help ensure success — not just for the individual, but of the entire family unit.
“When you meet a person on the spectrum, they are totally unique. There’s not another person on the planet just like them,” Ogas said.
Another goal on Firefly’s list is doing away with stereotypes that only make life harder for those who’ve been diagnosed with autism and may actually prevent others from seeking a diagnosis.
“The bottom line is autism is a different way of being — a different way of looking at the world,” he says. “There’s so much power when you’re able to look through a different lens and able to communicate in a different way.”
Tobin Truslow, Firefly’s Director of Development, stressed the importance of the holistic treatment offered at the facility.
“Because of our all-encompassing approach, you can get a diagnosis for autism, but autism is only one factor of the diagnosis,” he said. “Here, we’ve got speech therapy, occupational therapy, mental health, physical therapy. We’ve proven through data and science that we’re the best clinic you can go to.”
Recently, Firefly has been holding vaccination clinics to serve in another way.
“We were what you call an equity clinic, taking care of folks on the (autism) spectrum, folks with developmental disabilities, taking care of our elderly who had not been able to get a vaccination. We were taking care of our Asian and Latino and African American communities. So, we are taking care of the community as a whole,” Ogas said. “We’re firm believers that you’ve got to give back to the community in which you serve. That’s how you build strong communities.”
You can learn more about autism and Firefly at www.fireflyautism.org.
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