published on February 23, 2022 - 1:47 PM
Written by Gabriel Dillard

A new START program will bring assistance to youth and adults with I/DD (intellectual and developmental disabilities) in Fresno this spring, bringing services to not only Fresno County, but Madera, Merced, Tulare and Mariposa counties as well. 

START — Systemic, Therapeutic, Assessment, Resources and Treatment — is a quickly spreading program that assists in mental health care for people with I/DD.

This START program is overseen by YAI, an East Coast agency that offers a range of services assisting the I/DD community, including operating the Central Valley START location, along with five others in California.

“START programs provide support to children starting age six who have autism, or people with intellectual or developmental disabilities who have a co-occurring mental health or behavioral health concern,” said Director of START Services Sharon Cyrus-Savary. 

“We are a mental health crisis team, essentially, providing crisis prevention and intervention to this particular population, supported by the regional [START] centers around California,” she added.

The new location at 1690 W. Shaw Ave, Suite 105, will serve as the hub for START services in the Central Valley. Alongside eight other California locations, START is rapidly spreading from coast to coast.

With locations in 14 states, and additional partner programs in four states, START is partnering with mental health facilities across the country.

While the exact opening date is still being determined, Cyrus-Savary said the center plans to be open next month.

“We will definitely be in our offices by mid-March, and supporting people in the community right thereafter,” Cyrus-Savary said.

She went on to add that the state of California authorized the opening of three START centers two and a half years ago.

“The Central Valley Regional Center was only authorized by the state to put out a request for a proposal in the last four or five months,” Cyrus-Savary said.

“The START model is a model that was developed at the Center of START Services, and is implemented throughout the United States,” Cyrus-Savary said, adding that state and local vendors apply for proposals to provide START services.

The Central Valley was among those to receive approval.

The START program’s values are practiced daily “through decision-making, work contributions, and interpersonal interactions,” according to the START program’s website.

Alongside their regular services, START will also be able to assist in pandemic related mental health concerns.

“There are definitely a lot of people with I/DD and autism who have been significantly impacted by the pandemic,” Cyrus-Savary said. “ That has caused more mental health concerns for those people.”

START’s website also gives numerical data in annual reports on a variety of categories, including diversity of clients, COVID-19 telemental health results, along with data regarding behaviors and service experiences, allowing families and clients alike to see their progress.

“We can provide research data that supports, around the country, how people are being impacted,” Cyrus-Savary said.

She went on to say that there is new recognition that individuals living with I/DD face similar challenges as the rest of the population.

“They are an undeserved group of people because, in the past, people saw it as more behavioral and not mental health,” Cyrus-Savary said. “The state of California has decided that people with autism and I/DD who also have mental health challenges need the additional support — hence the reason START comes in.”

She added that the site, like all START centers, will be staffed by Master’s level clinicians, Bachelor’s level coaches, Ph.D. level psychologists, as well as a medical director and program director — both also mental health professionals.

Cyrus-Savary said that the program is looking forward to expanding into the Central Valley.

“I’m really looking forward to coming to the Central Valley and working with the community, collaborating with all the community providers, hospitals and schools to better support folks who may not otherwise have access to the type of support that START provides,” she said.

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