At the helm is Michelle Hathaway, director and fearless leader for almost 15 years. Hathaway has seen MMCC grow from home visits to a humble, converted nursing home on Charles Street in Auburn to what it is today.

Name: Michelle Hathaway

Age: 38

Besides director for MMCC, what do you do? I’m a board certified behavior analyst, special education consultant and certified special education teacher, currently in my last semester of classes for my Psy.D in school psychology at USM.

And where are you the few hours you’re not working? Turner, with my husband, who is a teacher and coach at Leavitt, and our three boys!

What kind of services does MMCC provide? We provide intensive educational and clinical services for children ages 2 to 21 in our center-based programs. Our students have autism, developmental disabilities, intellectual disabilities or a host of emotional and behavioral disorders. Our “little guys” come to us for evidence-based early intervention to teach them critical skills such as communication and social skills.

Many of our students do so well they are able to exit our pre-k program and enter public schools at 5. We have had students enter school and go into a “regular kindergarten” program.

Typically children are referred to us because of serious and severe behavioral challenges that include aggression and self-injury and is usually due to a child’s severe delays or mental health needs. Some of our students are returning to Maine from out-of-state institutions or residential programs as a “step down” and transition to home and school. We have had students start with us at 16 who have required five adults to keep them safe from harming others.

Unfortunately, many children have not accessed appropriate early intervention or have had years of problem behavior that has gotten worse as they have gotten older. Some children move in from other states with severe needs.

Tell me about your staff at MMCC. At our centers, we have highly talented and well-trained staff, dedicated to supporting these children as they learn to be safe and supported. Our staff have the patience, the support and the clinical programming to help kids succeed. Our psychologists, social workers, speech pathologists, occupational therapists and special education teachers work directly with our staff in a cohesive team approach that provides a wonderful and highly specialized treatment program to address the many, many complex needs our children have. We invest a tremendous amount of money into training and development of our staff so that our approach is the most current and effective it can be.

School budgets always seem to be in the news and particularly special education costs. What is your response to the rising cost of placements such as MMCC? We are costly — the personnel, materials and environment necessary to meet the needs of our students are not cheap. Our workers comp insurance and costs for clinical trainings are expensive. However, for every dollar spent on early intervention, we ultimately save 7 to 10 dollars, equating to millions of dollars of savings over a child’s lifetime. For our older students, our goal is to prevent hospitalization or institutionalization, again saving millions in lifelong care.

In addition to our centers, we have three programs in public schools, at a lowered cost for those districts. This allows us to transition children back to those sites and/or to prevent children from leaving the public school.

We also provide workshops, training and consultation to public schools in order to increase programming for children within districts and to prevent some children from needing programs like ours. We have helped several districts start programs when in need. We strive to increase the success of students in and out of our centers.

Do you have any favorite stories? My favorite story — I have a few!

We had a child in our pre-k with significant behavioral challenges and communication delays. After a year, we worked with his kindergarten program to gradually transition him to school, first with our staff and then with public school staff. Within two years, he “graduated” from special education. Recently, this child was in the newspaper for winning half-a-dozen awards, including student of the year, at his middle school graduation. He will do amazing things in his lifetime, and we will proudly watch him!

We had another child who came to us in 6th grade with a diagnosis of Asperger’s disorder and some serious behavior challenges. Ultimately, he didn’t know how to ask for help and was overwhelmed easily by noise, etc. We taught him to ask for help, to advocate for his needs and to regulate his emotions. I recently ran into him and he excitedly told me about his first year in college! Wow!

We had a family with three children, all diagnosed with autism before the age of 3. All three children entered our early intervention program and all three were able to transition to kindergarten, participating with their peers.

One student entered our program in seventh grade after being in public school for seven years. When he came to us, he was not able to communicate much at all, was not engaging in academic work and was not willing to put much effort into caring for himself. During high school, he began to fluently use a communication device to tell us how he felt, to ask for what he needed, to read, to answer questions and to have simple conversations with others. He was able to read and answer questions about his academic work. Most impressively, he worked in a local store as part of his vocational training. Following his recent graduation, he was hired to work part-time at this store, doing “real” work for “real” money. That’s what we want for all of our graduates!

It sounds like you and your staff have your work cut out for you. I know that the work we do is hugely important. We make a difference every day in our students’ lives. We prevent many from needing hospital placements or residential placements. Not only does this save a lot of money to state taxpayers, but the emotional savings for our families is priceless.

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