A program with more than 50 years of service for young children with autism and developmental delays in Kennebec County has opened in the former Fairbanks School in Farmington.

The Children’s Center of Augusta opened satellite locations in Skowhegan and in Gardiner two years ago. The newest one opened in January on Fairbanks Road in Farmington, said Executive Director Jeffrey Johnson.

“We opened a site on the Bigelow Hill Road in Skowhegan a couple years ago, and on Jan. 9 we opened a site in the Farmington area, which also did not have any services for small kids with a variety of disabilities,” Johnson said. “We opened that site to provide similar services to what we’re doing in Skowhegan.”

There are about 100 children combined in all four locations, he said.

The locations offer programming to children with autism or a mental health diagnosis from birth through age 5 and to children who show what the center refers to as significant “interfering behaviors,” or behaviors that cause harm to themselves or others, impede learning or are disruptive in daily life functions.

“Before going into the public school system, these children are identified as having special needs,” Johnson said in a telephone interview. “Our job is to get those kids ready to go to a public school or kindergarten so that they can communicate and that they can have interpersonal relationships with kids and teachers and be successful.”

The Farmington center also offers children targeted case management from birth through age 12 and their families, as do the other three facilities, Johnson said.

Behavioral health professionals under the direction of Linda Riley, in Farmington, a licensed clinical social worker, provide half-day or full-day specialized services in a highly structured setting with a high child-to-staff ratio, according to the program’s website.

The Children’s Center in Augusta, off Alden Avenue, has been providing services for children with special needs and their families since 1966. The center in Augusta serves about 65 children a day.

The center moved into a renovated 1804 farmhouse on Bigelow Hill Road in Skowhegan two years ago to meet the needs of rural families, Johnson said. Services focus on classroom programs, “floor time” and education using the principles of the Early Start Denver Model, according to Johnson.

The problem for families with children in rural areas such as Somerset and Franklin counties who could use the services provided by the center has been access to those services, Johnson said. The earlier the diagnosis of a child is made and the more aggressive the intervention is the better the outcomes, making rural satellite centers in Skowhegan and Farmington so important, Johnson said.

“We provide family supports, services that are really important,” Johnson said. “What we don’t want to do is have kids in our program that are learning certain skills that don’t transfer over to the home. We work with families to help them understand what we are trying to do and to support each other. We support them, and they support us.”

Early diagnosis, even by an untrained person or parent, is done by observing delays in communication skills in a child, Johnson said. A parent also might notice what Johnson calls social disengagement, in which young children don’t make eye contact or don’t like to roll around and play with other children.

“They get frustrated because they can’t tell people around them how they’re feeling or what they need,” he said. “So they act out.”

Program services are funded through Child Developmental Services, an agency within the Maine Department of Education. The Children’s Center is a nonprofit charitable organization. Families pay for the services either through their own insurance or through MaineCare, which is the state’s Medicaid program for low-income residents.

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

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Twitter:@Doug_Harlow