The Center for Excellence for Autism and Developmental Disorders, to be built next to Spring Harbor Hospital on the Portland/Westbrook line, will be able to serve adults and children under 5, two underserved populations. Rendering courtesy / Maine Behavioral Healthcare

PORTLAND — Maine Behavioral Healthcare has the green light from the Planning Board to create a state of the art center to treat individuals with autism and developmental disorders, a building that will “bring care to a whole new level,” according to Dr. Matthew Siegel, MBH vice president of Medical Affairs, Autism and Developmental Disorders Service.

The day treatment section of the center will include instructional space for students in pre-K through high school. Rendering courtesy / Maine Behavioral Healthcare

The 28,000-square-f00t Center for Excellence in Autism and Developmental Disorders on Andover Road on the Portland/Westbrook line will expand clinical and day treatment services to young children and adults, two groups not eligible for services at the current Center for Autism and Developmental Disorders facility on Gannett Drive in South Portland.

The services are needed, Siegel said. One in every 54 Maine residents,  or 24,900 people, are on the autism spectrum, including 6,000 who are students in public schools. Another 1%-2% have another form of developmental disorder.

Siegel said there are some excellent providers of services for young children in the area, but nowhere near enough to meet the demand.

Dennis Morelli, director of design and construction for Maine Health, said the Gannett Drive facility is at capacity and “is unable to meet the need and cannot be easily expanded.”

The new center will have classrooms for students from prekindergarten through high school, as well as a gym, playground and small dental clinic, and will be able to provide services to between 600 and 800 individuals a year. It also will include training opportunities for behavior analysts and speech pathologists, Siegel said.

Maine Behavioral Healthcare, Siegel and Morelli said, would like to start construction as soon as possible after the city issues a building permit with the goal of completing the project by summer 2021.

“Our strategic plan and major objective is to expand the facility to serve the full lifespan of our children with autism,” Morelli said.

Siegel said Maine Behavioral Healthcare has had strong public support for the project. So far the organization has raised $5 million of the $7 million it needs in donations. Maine Health will kick in another $7 million.

“It’s been tremendous because people have really stepped forward. It is never easy to raise money, but people are coming out to say ‘this is badly needed’ and want to support us in many ways, including financially,” Siegel said.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, “People with  ASD (autism spectrum disorder) may communicate, interact, behave, and learn in ways that are different from most other people. The learning, thinking, and problem-solving abilities of people with ASD can range from gifted to severely challenged. Some people with ASD need a lot of help in their daily lives; others need less.”

Comments are not available on this story.