Jessica Pugh is working to create a "one-stop shop" to assist the growing number children with autism and other developmental disabilities.
And she is one step closer to her goal, having recently moved the North Georgia Autism Center into a larger location on Dahlonega Highway in Cumming.
Nearly three years ago, Pugh opened the center on Browns Bridge Road with a staff of two, her and her father Chuck Pugh.
The center now has 15 employees working one-on-one with children ranging in age from 2 to high school. They offer behavioral therapy, sibling support groups, social skills groups and family counseling.
With the new facility covering nearly 3 acres, the center will have room to expand. It also will feature an outdoor play area, Chuck Pugh said.
"The location before was more of a commercial strip shopping center with no fixed indoor or outdoor play area," he said.
"This is a better environment to have a place where we're working with kids every day."
While some clients have been diagnosed with other developmental disabilities, including Down syndrome, the majority fall somewhere on the autism spectrum.
The center is equipped to help maximize the potential of its clients, whether they are high functioning or have limited verbal and social abilities.
Chuck Pugh said there are some who are "much more limited in capabilities, including how to feed themselves, potty training and learning basic verbal skills."
"There are some on the higher functioning end that are sometimes just needing to learn socialization skills," he said.
The center organizes activities where the children play games, socialize and learn how to better communicate and empathize.
Children with more limitations receive more one-on-one counseling. Because every child is different, Chuck Pugh said, all new clients receive a behavior analysis to determine the best approach.
The center currently provides a school environment for a small group of students from the Forsyth County school system. Instead of attending classes at their respective public schools, the students go to the center for a tailored program.
"We've worked out a partnership where they have three kids they send to me," Jessica Pugh said.
"I'm able to handle their behaviors in a more clinical way, and then I can transfer them back into the school system."
In the future she would like to offer speech, occupational and physical therapy, as well as operate a "private school that parents can choose to send their kids as an alternative to public school."
Jessica Pugh, 30, has a master's degree in psychology, with a specialization in applied behavior analysis and developmental disabilities, and is a board-certified behavior analyst.
After starting out in autism, she has worked with both adults and children with developmental disabilities.
"It's something I grew to love," she said. "It's really rewarding because you see a lot of progress. I've worked with kids with other developmental disabilities, but I just really enjoy the autism population."