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Meet Emma Chenoweth of Appleseeds Learning Center in Kennesaw

Today we’d like to introduce you to Emma Chenoweth.

Emma, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
I was introduced to Autism in 2009 while working on my undergrad. I completed an internship at a clinic that served children with Autism. I had never heard of ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis), I had never worked with an individual on the Spectrum, and I had no idea that I was about to find my passion in life.

On my first day, I observed therapists teaching their clients how to complete puzzles, give high fives, and tie their shoes. As I continued my training, I was introduced to Positive Reinforcement. I fell in love with the idea of celebrating every child’s success, no matter how small. By the end of the semester, I had helped a child say their first word. It was a small step, that took months of patiently working one on one with the child, but there was no better feeling than hearing that word for the first time.

I continued to work at the clinic for several years after my internship. My eyes were opened to the many struggles the Autism Community faced in Georgia. At the time, there was no insurance coverage for ABA therapy and Autism was considered a pre-existing condition. Access to services was very limited due to a lack of providers. Autism Professionals were discouraged from opening clinics in Georgia since insurance companies did not cover Autism therapies. I saw families struggling to pay for services, forced to walk away from treatments because they could not afford the cost, or turned away due to finances. There were even a few cases of parents taking out second mortgages on their homes so their child could receive the treatment they so desperately needed.

It was not fair. It was not right. Every child deserves a chance to learn. Every child deserves an environment to succeed. I knew that something needed to change, I knew that someone needed to make a difference, I knew that it would all start with a giant leap of faith…

Appleseeds Learning Center opened on June 1, 2013.

We began with two therapists, including myself, and five clients. We opened as an ABA clinic. Our goal was to offer affordable pricing so that children with Autism could receive the therapy they needed and deserved to succeed. As we continued to grow, our parents expressed the need for summer programs for the special needs community. While there is an abundance of summer camps in the Atlanta area, the opportunities for those with Autism is limited. We chose to expand our program and offer summer camps designed specifically for children with Autism. Although we had a successful summer, our families continued to express their disappointment in the lack of services available in the Atlanta area due to limited providers and long waiting lists. Each day we listened to the needs of our families and worked towards offering comprehensive programs.

“My child does not know how to make friends!” – We started a Social Skills Program;
“My child struggles with homework!” – We developed a Tutoring Lab;
“My husband & I can never find a special needs babysitter!” – We started offering Date Night/Respite Care;
“My child never looks at the camera!” – We started offering Autism Friendly Photo Shoots;
“My child is afraid of getting his hair cut!” – We offered Sensory Friendly Haircuts;
“My friends do not understand what it is like to have a child with Autism” – We started an Autism Caregiver Support Group.

Needless to say, we grew rapidly as we worked to meet the needs of our families. Then we were blessed to experience another opportunity for growth. Ava’s Law passed during the 2015 Legislative Session. This mandate finally required Georgia insurance companies to cover ABA. This meant some families in Georgia could finally use their insurance to cover Autism Treatments! While this was not true for everyone, we decided to continue offering affordable private pay rates and also accept insurance. We moved to our current 8000 square foot facility in June 2015 and began accepting insurance in January 2016.

Appleseeds turns 4 on June 1, 2017. While we started with just two unpaid team members, we now have a team of over 30. We are proud to work with these amazing children each and every day. Although teaching children with Autism can be difficult, it is also rewarding. Each day we have the privilege of watching our students learn and grow. They teach us how to accept one another no matter our differences, to love one another without words, and to always be ourselves no matter what anyone else thinks.

Has it been a smooth road?
Unfortunately, owning your own business does not allow the luxury of a “smooth road.” Startups require you to give 150% every day that ends in “y”. Our first year of operation consisted of late nights, tears (both from laughing and crying), and hard work. As with any small business, bumps in the road are inevitable. However, when you are doing what you love, you realize that giving up is not an option. We have definitely had our fair share of “bumps.” As we started to grow, we began hiring additional team members. I learned that you have to go through some bad apples to find a team that is passionate about your mission and committed to working as a team to succeed. Growth and success comes with many positives, but with every step you take, someone is bound to try and bring you down. My team has always stood together to make Appleseeds a better, stronger place. We looked adversity in the face and came out on top every time.

We’d love to hear more about your business.
Appleseeds is not a regular therapy center. We are a center for children with Autism. Our mission is to provide a fun, creative, and supportive learning environment for children with Autism Spectrum Disorders and their families. We strive to offer competitively priced, high quality services to the Autism community. We understand the financial burden Autism therapy treatments can cause, which is why we choose to offer families an affordable option. We want every child to have access to ABA and Autism treatments. Our team goes above and beyond to provide the best treatment and intervention plans possible.

Is our city a good place to do what you do?
The rate of Autism is rapidly growing. On March 27, 2014, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released new data on the prevalence of autism in the United States. This surveillance study identified 1 in 68 children (1 in 42 boys and 1 in 189 girls) as having autism spectrum disorder (ASD). I would encourage all Autism Service professionals to consider opening clinics in metro Atlanta. Rural Georgia is also in need of providers. Unfortunately, there are still not enough service providers to meet the needs of the Autism community.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Leslie Hatcher Photography

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