Orchid House Brings Autism Services To West Louisville
Story by Mariah Kline
Photo by Kathryn Harrington
A number of excellent organizations that serve students with autism call Louisville home, and our city is incredibly fortunate to have these institutions in place. However, West Louisville has far fewer resources to meet the needs of these children than other parts of the city. One nonprofit is addressing this need and preparing to open a daycare center that could have an overwhelming impact on young lives.
Executive Director Kaitlin Blessitt founded Orchid House Therapeutic Day Center for Kids in 2017. She graduated from University of Louisville’s School of Nursing in 2008 and finished her master’s in nurse administration from Ball State University in December 2017. Prior to founding the center, she worked for The Kidz Club, a pediatric daycare for medically fragile children. She served as the director of the organization’s Portland neighborhood location and eventually became a regional director – overseeing five medical daycares in Kentucky, three of which she helped open.
In her experience in pediatric daycare, Blessitt found that children with autism were often receiving assistance from Medicaid but weren’t having their specific needs met. According to her, these students often need adapted classrooms, lower student-to-teacher ratios and even adjusted lights and sounds in order to thrive.
Orchid House is a pediatric prescribed extended care (PPEC) program that will specifically focus on behavior and emotional sensory processing disorders and the autism spectrum. Their adapted classrooms will have no more than six students at a three-to-one ratio, and they will have a more traditional classroom designed for up to 12 students.
“The idea is that if children start in adapted classrooms, we are kind of weaning them up to the traditional classroom so that they are kindergarten ready,” explains Blessitt. “Kids are getting diagnosed as early as 12 months old and two years old now, so then what do they do? If they don’t have interventions to work with their diagnosis, then they are really behind by the time they get to kindergarten.”
Orchid House already has 15 children on their waitlist and their space will be able to accommodate up to 30. In addition to meeting educational needs, they will also have skilled nursing care since a number of their children have overlapping seizure issues, gastrointestinal issues and other medical needs. With the plan they’ve developed, Orchid House will have the ability to aid children who have been turned away or dismissed from other traditional childcare settings.
“What we’re doing is kind of taking the place of daycare,” Blessitt says. “These parents cannot work or they’re leaving their kids at home with a caregiver who may be unqualified. They’re also not getting that social benefit and early interactions that they need.”
While Blessitt says she’s been astounded by the lack of resources available to children with autism in West Louisville, she’s also been overwhelmed by the dedication of the parents she has met.
“A lot of these parents are really young and they have to step up to these challenges,” she reveals. “They have to adapt to become this organized supermom or superdad. A lot of our parents are single moms, and I’m just really impressed by the amount of work that they have to do to advocate for their child because their child doesn’t have a voice.”
Currently, Orchid House is close to signing a lease on a building in the Parkland neighborhood, and Blessitt anticipates opening their doors in October 2018. Most of their students are on Medicaid or Passport, so these entities will pay for services provided. However, since the center will begin their operations on a provisional license, the organization may not be reimbursed for up to six months.
In order to properly develop their space and open their doors to the community’s children, Orchid House is paying for their programming through grants, lines of credit and donations. Blessitt and her board of directors are holding a “Friend-Raiser” at Odeon in Butchertown on the evening of June 29. The night will include live music, food and auction items. Most importantly, guests will have the opportunity to learn more about the amazing work Orchid House will be doing for children who desperately need expert care.
“The kids in West Louisville, they don’t have access to those services,” she affirms. “So it’s really about equitable access (and providing) high quality services. Socioeconomic barriers shouldn’t prevent children from getting what they need.” VT
Orchid House Therapeutic Day Center for Kids
6 to 10 p.m. June 29
Odeon, 1335 Story Ave.