Several months ago, when Elijah Glen Root was in crisis and out of control, his parents could find no placement for the tall teen with autism.
Although more treatment and educational centers are serving the needs of children and adults with autism than ever before, residential treatment remains rare.
After several trying days at home, Marla Root finally found a placement for her son in another Ohio city. She considers herself fortunate. Elijah received the help he needed without leaving the state.
If that situation arises again, Elijah will be able to find treatment and comfort in a local, short-term residential center with his name on it -- literally.
The Elijah Glen Center is slated to open in the summer at the Step By Step Academy, which is on the 45-acre former Harding Hospital site at 445 E. Granville Road in Worthington.
Step By Step has provided services to children and adults with autism and other developmental and mental-health issues on the Worthington campus since 2007, when it opened with 30 students in two buildings.
The academy purchased the Harding property from Ohio State University for $4.5 million in December.
Now operating out of five buildings, Step By Step provides behavioral-health services to more than 750 individuals from 15 Ohio counties. It educates and supports more than 250 students from all over central Ohio.
The former Harding administration building has become an outpatient behavior clinic that provides counseling, therapy and medication evaluation to children, adolescents and adults who are experiencing problems in emotional and behavioral health.
Typically, the team of psychiatrists, psychologists and social workers will schedule 120 appointments a week.
Students at the school range in age from 3 to 21, many attending on autism scholarships from their home districts.
The goal of the school is to provide support and behavioral therapy and to get the children back to the schools in their neighborhoods, said Marla Root, director of the Elijah Glen Center.
The center will add crisis stabilization to Step By Step's expanding menu of services.
Designed for adolescents ages 12-18, the center will be able to house up to 14 in a residential center once used by Harding Hospital for a similar purpose.
Each resident will have a private room with a bed and bathroom with shower. Residents also will have access to school and recreation, as well as round-the-clock treatment and to the bucolic grounds of the former Harding Hospital.
"The Harding family really knew what they were doing," Marla Root said.
The crisis de-escalation and step-down program will offer families an alternative to psychiatric hospitalization and will transition residents back into their homes and schools when they are ready.
"We have to treat the child -- and mom and dad," she said.
The center will not be locked. When a student tries to leave, an alarm will sound.
A small staff-to-resident ratio will help ensure that no one leaves the premises without company, Root said.
During the day, the ratio will be nearly 1-to-1, she said. At night, eight staff members will take care of 14 residents.
Neighbors have been notified of the opening of the residential treatment center, and no one has expressed any concern about safety, she said.
Many neighbors, as well as local and state leaders, turned out to tour the renovated facilities last week and to celebrate the purchase and expansion of Step By Step.
State Sen. Kevin Bacon (R-Minerva Park), who helped pass legislation to push through the purchase of the state-owned property last year, said the expansion is very important to him because he has a daughter with autism.
"It's only the beginning," he said. "I'm excited to see what happens from this point on."