Mighty Kidz Services (MKS) is a brand-new therapy center and school specializing in Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) and speech therapy. It is a trauma-informed preschool prep program for neurodiverse children ages 2 to 5 years old.
At MKS, each child is given 1:1 instruction by a behavior technician and is supervised by a Board-Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA). Individual ABA therapy sessions are also available outside of the preschool prep program.
ABA therapy can be provided at home, in the community, in school, and clinic-based.
The ABA Afterschool Program is available for neurodiverse children who attend school during the day.
Mighty Kidz Services is the only one of its kind in South Carolina.
Lindsay Schmelzel, a Board-Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA), and previous Qualified Autism Service Practitioner-Supervisor (QASP-S), is the sole owner of Mighty Kidz Services LLC. Schmelzel’s vision was to create a trauma-informed preschool prep program to help families and children transition into an educational setting without difficulties, and that’s exactly what she did!
This preschool prep program and afterschool Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) program is deliberately designed to be unlike any other in our area.
ABA is “medically necessary therapy” for children diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), according to Schmelzel. Children, typically at 5 years old, transition from preschool to a kindergarten school setting, whether it’s private, public, or homeschool. Therefore, this program is necessary prep in order to “empower, educate, and enhance” the children’s current skill sets to reach success.
Schmelzel expands, “We work one-on-one with each child, but we also incorporate social opportunities with small groups and large groups of peers. Essentially, we are familiarizing the learner with what a traditional school setting is going to look like.”
ABA Day Program
Mighty Kidz Services’ ABA Day Program opened August of this year. This neurodiverse day program is for 2 to 5 year olds, and is open from 7:30 am until 3:30 pm.
During the day school, students receive the following therapies:
- Preschool Life Skills Program
- Individual ABA Therapy
- Social Skills Group Therapy
This preschool preparatory program currently houses a total of 12 children and 12 teachers. In other words, it boasts an impressive 1:1 student-to-teacher ratio.
In addition to the day program, Mighty Kidz also offers an afterschool program from 3:30 pm until 5:30 pm. The afterschool program, however, is open to school-age kids aged 4 and older.
Mighty Kidz Services’ afterschool program has a slightly different focus than its day program counterpart. For instance, these focuses help benefit and support kids already in a school setting.
According to the Mighty Kidz website, some of these focuses include the following:
- “Building social interactions and relationship building skills.”
- “Empowering self-advocacy skills and learning how to navigate life challenges.”
- “Educating learneres through enhancing academic and communication and soft skills through individual behavioral programs and group instruction with peers similar in age and developmental level.”
Schmelzel specifies that, “All of our ABA therapy programs are designed for any child diagnosed with autism, or any child that has a perceived diagnosis of autism.”
In order to qualify for ABA therapy programming, your child must have a medical diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and/or be receiving BabyNet services, and also have a completed failed STAT (Screening Tool for Autism in Toddlers and Young Children) test conducted by an Early Interventionist.
There are no age restrictions in order to receive ABA therapy services at Mighty Kidz.
All ABA therapy programs are covered by insurance, whether it’s Medicaid or private insurance-based. MKS follows insurance requirements based on the individual’s policy.
Currently, there is a waitlist for the preschool prep and after-school ABA therapy programs.
Schmelzel explains that MKS teaching practices are very “trauma-informed.” All services are designed to target increasing the “learner’s choice.” And all programming is child-led and focused on building rapport.
“No significant learning occurs without a significant relationship. We do this by determining what makes a learner ‘happy, relaxed and engaged.’ This is what we call HRE!,” says Schmelzel.
“At Mighty Kidz, we teach through happy experiences; we do not teach through tears. We don’t wait out behaviors or engage in old techniques of ABA, such as extinction and ignoring behaviors,” Schmelzel emphasizes.
The clinic bears in mind each student’s needs, as well as each student’s family’s needs. Each treatment plan is created from an initial assessment, where the analyst completes a parent interview and learner observation.
A curricular assessment is also performed. This assesses where current skills are, what skills need to be enhanced or taught, and what ineffective behaviors need to be replaced with behaviors that still meet the same function.
A behavior treatment plan is created from these particular assessments and individualized to each learner and their family’s needs.
Schmelzel stresses, “We really listen; we value what the family and child says or does. We take into account how they experience their life, and we look at ways on how to effectively improve their lives. MKS accepts all feedback from family, caregivers, as well as teachers and other therapists.”
Program goals have each learner’s input. For learners who are studying how to advocate for themselves, this is extremely valuable.
For instance, Schmelzel says, “Asking our older learners questions like, ‘What do you want to do?’ What do you want to be able to improve on in these next couple of weeks? How can we help you become successful? What goals do you want to set for yourself?’ ” are all important steps in the learner’s individual programs.
“We really work on self-improvement and empowering our learners how to self-advocate. Whether the child is vocal or non-vocal, there is a program goal on how to stop aversive events from occurring, how to request for help, and how to request for space,” she adds.
Other program goals include health and safety, productivity, social relationships, and community awareness. ABA therapy is effective for all domains of life.
Schmelzel asserts, “Mighty Kidz Services is big on collaboration. Rapport-building is not only for the learner, but also for the family. By building rapport with all that are involved in the learner’s life, we are able to build a trusting and transparent relationship. We ensure that everyone is on the same page as to how to ‘empower, educate, and enhance’ each individual learner!”
“We want to make sure that each individual program goal we create has that feedback from the parents, and even the child,” she adds.
Open to Anyone
“Fun fact, ABA therapy is not just for children diagnosed with ASD! However, it is the only
therapy where a medical diagnosis of ASD is required,” says Schmelzel.
Mighty Kidz Services offers a private pay services option based on Medicaid rates. This option is available should your child not have a medical diagnosis of ASD, yet would benefit from individualized instruction and smaller groups.
Soon Mighty Kidz will add speech therapy as one of it’s many offerings. Beginning in September, a speech therapist will be available to those on the waiting list.
Schmelzel exclaims, “MKS was just approved with SC Medicaid to accept Speech Therapy Services as a multi-specialty group provider!”
“We already have several kids currently on our waitlist for a speech therapist,” she says.
Unfortunately, for many children and families in need of speech therapy, one of the biggest hurdles is the wait and waitlists.
“For some of our kiddos that are in our ABA preschool program, they had already been on waitlist for about a year for speech therapy,” Schmelzel explains.
Coming Soon: Occupational Therapist
Although Mighty Kidz Services does not currently house an occupational therapist (OT), they hope to have one in-house in the near future.
“It is one of my goals to create connections in Columbia with the OT community and find a really strong trauma-informed OT that practices similar to the visions of Mighty Kidz Services,” says Schmelzel.
*If there are any occupational therapists currently looking for a new direction, please reach out to Mighty Kidz Services here!
Mighty Kidz Services accepts insurance. Yes, you read that correctly. There are no out-of-pocket tuition costs if your insurance is accepted (see sidebar for a list of all accepted insurance).
Schmelzel explains, “In our intake paperwork, I’m a very transparent person. Some companies don’t provide that private pay option until they request it. But, each child who completes our intake paperwork process has that information right there.”
She says, “I’m excited to say we accept Medicaid, where many other practices are limited to accepting Medicaid. Our private pay rates are Medicaid rates, which is the lowest paying insurance for our services.”
Mighty Kidz Services Summer Camp
Despite the fact that Schmelzel was busy preparing the start of the MKS clinic and school over the summer, she also managed to host an inclusive summer camp this year!
This all-inclusive summer camp was held in June and July at Sesquicentennial State Park.
The MKS Summer Camp counselor staff was comprised of retired teachers and registered behavior technicians for neurotypical and neurodiverse children ages 3 and up.
Community sponsorships allowed some MKS campers to attend camp free of charge.
Scottie’s Café and Grill, a local Blythewood restaurant, generously sponsored one camper this summer. A military spouse/real estate agent, Taley Hunt Home Group, sponsored a whopping 10 military families to also attend the camp at no cost.
Schmelzel emphasizes, “It’s so important to connect with the community, building relationships with mom and pop restaurants, shops, and companies that want to also help out clinics and camps like MKS.”
Mighty Kidz hopes to host and expand the summer camp offerings again in 2024.
A Dream Becomes Reality
Schmelzel muses, “It’s always been a dream of mine to open a small ABA preschool setting program and further create an umbrella for other services! In the educational world, unfortunately, there’s a void for formal schools for neurodiverse children.”
“Children either enter the school setting with ineffective behaviors and get suspended, or they get put into a program too early and regress,” she adds.
“By having a program that introduces the foundational skills with a smaller group size and individual instructor, ineffective behaviors are less likely to occur once the learner graduates from MKS and transitions to their next educational setting,” advises Schmelzel.
She shares, “I had this dream on paper for such a long time. And I’m just so grateful that it has come off the paper. The powerhouse that makes up MKS are rockstar behavior technicians and compassionate BCBAs that have extensive training in effective behavior-focused programs to include practical functional assessment and skill-based treatment, preschool life skills, toileting, feeding, sleeping, and parent-led programming.”
Mighty Kidz Services plans for expansion. Be on the lookout for new developments in the coming year!
300 Rice Meadow Way, Suite 200, Columbia
If you’re looking for additional preschool options for your children, don’t miss the Kidding Around Preschool and Day Care Guide to Columbia, SC