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To Answer the Call or Not

There is a saying that you meet one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism. This is because no two people with autism are the same. The same is true for a day in the life of the staff at the Chattanooga Autism Center “CAC”. I was in the office one day and the phone kept ringing. Executive director, Dave Buck said, “You want to answer it, don’t you?” I did, but was afraid I wouldn’t have the answers. But I found out the other night at a CAC board meeting that the answers are there, we just have to ask the questions. Guests and board members were greeted by Alyce Benson, a licensed clinical social worker with a master’s degree in social work, and Elizabeth Thornburgh, the CAC office manager, who holds a master’s degree in education. This was an informal meeting where board members asked questions and Ms. Benson and Ms. Thornburgh shared memories, insightful information, and encouraging words of how the CAC meets the many needs of those under the Autism Spectrum Disorder.

The clinic is comprised of Ms. Benson and Dr. Karen Weigle, a licensed clinical psychologist who is qualified to assess needs as well as counsel clients and families. A third licensed clinical psychologist, Dr. Marzi Radpour-Wiley was recently added to the staff to also make assessments. All three work part-time, but usually five days a week one or two of the three is present.

Another service provided is the new ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis) Clinic. Currently children up to eight years old are accepted into the program. Meghan Lindsay, BCBA and Anna Straussberger, BCBA are directors of the ABA clinic, which was started in 2016. Both provide ABA Therapy and supervise other ABA therapists. Details on the ABA program can be found here.

The day-to-day running of the CAC is the responsibility of the executive director, Dave Buck, Ph.D. Responsible for overseeing the annual fundraiser, The Chattanooga Autism Walk, the annual CAC Conference held at the Chattanooga Convention Center, mentoring interns, answering questions from telephone calls, emails, and people who walk in off the street; he is there for everyone. In addition, he is the face of the CAC in the community, bringing autism awareness to all he meets including the local schools, emergency responders, focus groups, other non-profit organizations, and more.

Keep in mind the CAC is a volunteer-driven organization. When someone comes up with a need or idea, they are encouraged to move forward and help the CAC make it happen. An example is the office manager, Elizabeth Thornburgh. Ms. Thornburgh wanted to connect with other families with children on the autism spectrum. She began by volunteering to answer the phone at the CAC and now she is on staff. Yes, she is still answering the phone, but also handling the insurance, intake process for clients, and is coordinating all the wonderful sensory friendly events through the “Out N About” program. There are so many more programs available to people with autism or families who have children any age on the spectrum. Look under “Resources” here:

You might be wondering whether or not I answered the phone that day. I did not, but I found out at the board meeting that there is in place a whole set of guidelines for volunteers who might be able to give a few hours a week to just answer the telephone. Instead I offered to write about the CAC and bring news to the website through this blog. Hopefully one of you may be inspired to call the CAC and consider volunteering. And if answering the phone is not your thing, the 2017 Conference needs your help, the carpet in the offices can always use a vacuum, the furniture dusted, and maybe just come down and greet people as they walk in or wait for their children. You could play with the a child who is waiting for their brother or sister who is having therapy. I truly believe you won’t be disappointed.

If you are interested in attending a CAC board meeting, please feel welcome. The list of current board members is located here. For more information, contact Dave Buck at the CAC office, 423-531-6961, option 4.


Pris Shartle

Chattanooga Autism Center Volunteer

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