Hailey Carr, 16, a 10th-grader at the Glickman Lauder Center of Excellence for Autism and Developmental Disabilities in Portland, unloads a basket of mock groceries while occupational therapist Emily Wasina rings them up at a simulated grocery store provided by Hannaford. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Hailey Carr paused before the simulated grocery store shelves at the Glickman Lauder Center of Excellence for Autism and Developmental Disabilities in Portland, basket in hand.

Emily Wasina, a social worker for the center, took out a laminated grocery list, with pictures of the food items – such as cereal, eggs, crackers and milk – and showed it to Hailey. One by one, she took the items off the shelves, put them in her basket and then took them to a pretend Hannaford checkout lane.

“Hi,” said Carr, who has autism, to Wasina. She handed the items, one by one, to Wasina, who helpfully said “beep” to simulate the scanner.

JoJo Mathiang, 13, an eighth-grader at Glickman-Louder Center for Autism Excellence, practices paying for mock groceries with occupational therapist Emily Wasina at a simulated grocery store provided by Hannaford. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

“That will be $20,” Wasina said, as Carr, 16, opened her wallet and handed her a faux credit card.

MaineHealth’s new $14.5 million, 28,000 square-foot Glickman Lauder Center, which opened in August, 2021, serves 600 to 700 patients, mostly outpatients, but also has a K-12 school, which Carr attends, and a preschool. Gov. Janet Mills attended an official opening of the center – located near MaineHealth’s Spring Harbor Hospital, which serves a similar population – on Wednesday.

The school has a new “life skills” room, which not only has a simulated grocery area, thanks to a donation from Hannaford, but also a pretend dentist’s chair, hair salon, height and weight scale and chair to get your blood pressure checked, like you would see at the doctor’s office, clothes washer and dryer, and a small kitchen.


Dr. Matthew Siegel, director of the Glickman Lauder Center, said the life skills area is crucial to help those with autism become familiar with places that often cause anxiety.

“Kids or adults with autism need to learn things like how to go to the grocery store,” Siegel said. “We often hear from parents, ‘My kid melts down in the grocery store all the time, or can’t tolerate getting a haircut.’ Now, we can bring that person in and practice doing those things. They can practice sitting in the barber’s chair.”

The life skills area is open to preschool and K-12 students, as well as outpatients.

Lindsey Carr, Hailey’s mother, said that the program has helped her daughter be more independent around the house.

“She can help with the laundry, do the dishes, brush her own hair,” Lindsey Carr, of the Knox County town of Washington, said. “These are all things helping her become more independent, and it’s tremendous. She wants to become a grocery bagger when she comes of age and that warms my heart.”

Students, social workers and occupational therapists at the Glickman Lauder Center of Excellence for Autism and Developmental Disabilities in Portland participate in a cooking class as part of life skills training. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Siegel said the K-12 school hasn’t been open long enough to properly measure outcomes, but the idea is that it can help students transition back to their home districts faster.


“We are trying to set them up for success in their home district,” Siegel said. “We now have the extra programs and space at the center to help get their behaviors and emotions settled down and under control.”

Estimates for how many people have autism vary, but generally range between 1 and 2 percent. Autism and other similar disorders range on a spectrum, so some people are higher-functioning.

The K-12 school serves about 20 students, and the preschool also serves a similar population. With the preschool, Siegel said by working with autistic children before age 6, they can help them reach their potential, and some may become verbal who otherwise wouldn’t have been.

“The early period is so critical,” Siegel said. “If you are nonverbal by age 6, you are likely to remain nonverbal.”

At the life skills center, after Hailey used the grocery checkout line, social workers conducted a session for Hailey and several of her classmates in the kitchen. They set the table, made soy butter sandwiches, and cut up fruit for a snack.

“At home now, Hailey will load the dishwasher, and she beams now every time she does it,” Lindsey Carr said. “The program is amazing, it’s like a family.”

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