Child autism center expands Old Town Lenexa space, considers second Shawnee location

Autism from the Start, a Lenexa center for small children with autism, is expanding its facility and exploring a possible second location in Shawnee. The plans allow the center to double its services to serve more families. Above, children play with staff in the backyard of the facility, a historic house in Old Town Lenexa. Photo courtesy Autism from the Start.

Autism from the Start, a Lenexa center for young children with autism, is expanding its facility and exploring a possible second location in Shawnee. The plans allow the center to double its services.

Michelle Macrorie, founder and chief executive officer, said the center is renovating and expanding its space in Old Town Lenexa. During construction, children and staff will relocate to a temporary space in a Shawnee church.

The historic home in Old Town Lenexa needs to be renovated and expanded for Autism from the Start to grow its services, said Michelle Macrorie, founder and CEO. Photo via Johnson County Appraiser Office.

“We’re in a 115-year-old historic house; it’s a charming, warm, playful space for us, but it is not the most functional,” Macrorie said. “It’s lovely to be here, and at the same, it’s kind of challenging.”

The renovations include an expansion in the back of the center as well as extensive landscaping and improvements of the play area. The yard will turn into Kansas native plantings and feature natural play areas such as slides built into mounds.

The temporary location is in Cross Points Church on Lackman Road in Shawnee. Macrorie said she’s exploring a possible permanent second location in Shawnee. The move could take place sometime in March.

“We have great plans for this place,” said Macrorie, a psychologist. “Whether or not the Shawnee location does become Center Number 2, even on that journey, the move itself allows us to serve more families.”

“Whether or not the Shawnee location does become Center Number 2, even on that journey, the move itself allows us to serve more families,” said Michelle Macrorie, founder and CEO of Autism from the Start. Photo courtesy Autism from the Start.

The center serves 13 children. Macrorie said the center could double in size by expanding its Lenexa facility to serve 24 children, and quadruple in size by adding a permanent second location, serving up to 48 children at both locations. She’s also excited to grow her staff of about 20 and serve more families.

“In terms of our why, it truly is to help our kids and serve more parents,” she said. “For years, I provided the diagnostic evaluations before. I used to be the one giving the diagnosis, send them off to find services, and doing that, for years, is why it is heartbreaking to hear the struggles that families have, the waitlists that are out there.

“That’s why I opened our center, and now I’m on the other side having to say no to folks when we don’t have enough room.”

The Shawnee Planning Commission on Jan. 20 approved a special use permit for the center to operate at the church. Macrorie said she appreciated the warm welcome from the commissioners and a smooth positive process in both Shawnee and Lenexa.

“I’m extremely excited, really hopeful, and just looking forward to being able to do all the great things I’ve been dreaming about for years,” Macrorie added. “They’re all in my head, and to actually put them into reality is really exciting.”

Autism from the Start first opened in June 2016.