BENTON HARBOR — The LOGAN Autism Learning Center in Southwest Michigan has been finding creative ways to serve its clients during the COVID-19 pandemic, said Kristin Wier, clinical site director.

"We're doing tele-health for the first time ever in the history of LOGAN, which is kind of exciting," she said. "We're doing web-based therapy where we have video with a client. We've never been able to do that before."

The nonprofit started providing services in 1950 in South Bend, Ind. LOGAN expanded to Southwest Michigan in 2013 at First Congregational Church in St. Joseph before opening its current center in the former Stump Elementary School in 2016.

She said it's not the same as having the clients come to the center, where many of them usually spend up to seven hours a day. Instead, she said they work with the clients virtually anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours a day.

She said it was important to continue working with the 158 families the center serves, so that they receive the support they need and don't regress.

"We're also doing a lot of parent training," she said. "We're not in the homes right now, so we are training the parents on what is the best way to work through different situations and also how to build skills within the home."

She said providing services virtually has gone very well.

"It's been a surprise in the midst of a really challenging time for everybody," she said. "We've seen some clients actually feel more comfortable talking through a screen, which was interesting for us."

Wier said that in the past week, they started having face-to-face meetings with some clients in the center.

"We all are wearing masks and we have different PPE available," she said. "We have a lot of new sanitation ... and safety policies in place to make sure everybody is safe."

She said some of the clients are also wearing masks.

"We are trying to make (the clients) more accustomed to wearing them so when they go into the public, they can join their family," she said. "There are some children that have more intense sensory needs and so they really don't want something on their face or behind their ears. We're doing desensitization to make things not as scary for them."

She said they didn't know how the children would react to seeing LOGAN staff wearing masks. So far, she said none of the clients have had an adverse reaction to seeing therapists wearing masks.

"We actually found that a lot of our clients have better eye contact right now because they really can only see our eyes," she said. "A lot of our clients struggle with having eye contact when communicating with others. ... Some of the kids are looking into our eyes for the first time. It's been a nice connection."

In addition to disrupting services, the pandemic caused LOGAN to have to cancel many of its biggest fundraisers. Wier said their biggest local fundraiser is held at Kelley's Bowl in St. Joseph in April during World Autism Awareness Month.

She said she hopes they are able to reschedule the fundraiser later in the year, but need to wait and see how businesses open back up in the state.

Anyone who would like to donate to the LOGAN center can send a check to LOGAN Center, 1651 E. Nickerson Ave., Benton Harbor, MI 49022. If the donation is only for the Southwest Michigan center, she said ALC of Southwest Michigan should be put in the memo line.

Donations to LOGAN in general can be made at www.logancenter.org.

Contact: lwrege@TheHP.com, 932-0361, Twitter: @HPWrege