SIOUX CITY, Iowa (KCAU) — In 2021, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported roughly 1 in 44 children in the US were diagnosed with an autism disorder.

The start of the school year can be a stressful time for anyone, but mental health experts in Siouxland said it’s important for people on the autism spectrum to embrace that uncertainty.

Miranda Smalley is the clinical director of Pier Center for Autism in Sioux City. The center provides a charter classroom for kids to temporarily learn if they’re struggling at their home school. She said children with autism need multiple resources available to them.

“If kids aren’t successful in their environment, behavioral analysis believes that we should fix their environment,” said Smalley. “So, that’s our job. It’s not the kid’s fault that they’re struggling. It’s the environment’s fault.”

The center includes 17 full time therapists as well as two educators. Erin Nuetzman, a behavior therapist, said kids with autism are very dependent on structure, so she and other therapists help kids adjust to change.

“We’ll purposely disrupt that routine and work with why that’s hard and make sure it’s not such a scary thing for them,” said Nuetzman.

The outside world is much different than inside the autism center and families play a significant role in helping the kids retain the skills they learn at the clinic, according to Nuetzman.

“A lot of what we need to work with with parents, with families, with siblings, is how we can transfer the skills that we teach here in such a controlled setting to the real world to the chaos of the grocery store, to the chaos of home with multiple kids,” said Nuetzman.

According to Smalley, there’s a heavy demand for these services in Siouxland. While the center serves 50 families, there are more than 80 families on the wait list and some have been waiting for more than two years.