Ripple Effect regional autism center Coldwater Branch County classrooms

COLDWATER — Ripple Effects Autism Learning Center is now open at 350 Marshall St., the fifth center operated by Applied Behavior Analysis Services in southwest Michigan. 

Ripple Effects serves children ages 1 to 6 diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder.

“With the goal of enhancing learning paths, gradually reducing the need for specialized services, and easing transitions into traditional schools and social settings,” according to site supervisor Ashley Cantrell.   

Cantrell is the principal clinician at Coldwater who will work with up to five clients.   

According to Megan McDowell, the regional director, Ripple Effects can bring in others as the need grows. 

The company started in South Haven and then expanded to Centreville, Portage, Sturgis, and now Coldwater.  

The large open areas plus smaller separate rooms allow Ripple Effects “to work with the children to improve the lives of individuals with autism by offering a nurturing and supportive environment for them to learn new skills and reduce challenging behaviors,” Cantrell said. 

For children who are medically diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder, the center accepts Medicaid with a referral from Pines Behavioral Health. 

Commercial healthcare insurance providers like Blue Cross Blue Shield/Blue Care Network, Aetna, Physician’s Health Group, Optum, United Health Care, and Cigna cover the program. 

Children play and learn during one-on-one sessions with a behavior technician trained on each child’s individual learning plan.  

McDowell explained that some children qualify for up to 35 hours of therapy a week, and caregivers are taught about the science behind their teaching strategies to support their child at home.  

“It’s really a whole family approach where caregivers share their concerns and future goals for their child with us, and we help the child learn skills and help the child become more independent,” Cantrell said.  

“We’re only offering early intervention services. We really like to help assessing when they are going into the school after this,” McDowell said.  

Darrin Adair, Branch Intermediate School District superintendent of special education, said, “A couple of supervisors (from St. Joseph County) I ended up hiring talked highly of this group, and how good it is for the families.” 

Adair said, “I wouldn’t look at it as just respite for the parents but as a huge help for them.” 

Students who attend Branch County Schools are screened to determine if they need services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.  

If any student is eligible, they get an individualized education plan, the superintendent explained. 

Problems can occur if a student is medically diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder and that student does not meet the state educational criteria in the school system for autism. “That’s where it can be confusing and frustrating for parents,” Adair said. 

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Cantrell said Ripple Effects tries to ensure children can fit into both education and medical diagnosis.

Cantrell can be contacted at or (269) 257-9058.  

— Contact Don Reid: 

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