Mesa home to first 'Certified Autism Center'

MESA, Ariz (FOX 10) - Mesa has the country's first ever destination to be a "Certified Autism Center," which means employees are highly trained to welcome children and families affected by autism.

The people who live at First Place Arizona love a good air hockey game. Having a good time and enjoying neighbors and friends means a lot to these special residents.

"First place is a relatively new innovative residential apartment community for people with autism and other known diversities," said Denise Resick, founder.

Denise Resick is the founder. Her son Matthew was her motivation to give children and families affected by autism a place to belong.

"Because autism doesn't have a physical characteristic, it is not always recognized because individuals vary in terms of the spectrum of autism, you might be able to have a conversation with somebody who is on the spectrum," explained Resick.

The city of Mesa is joining the effort to recognize everyone on the spectrum. Visit Mesa has become the country's first ever destination marketing organization designated as a "Certified Autism Center."

"Well this was born out of personal experience, I have a 5-year-old who was diagnosed with autism at 14 months," said Marc Garcia, President and CEO of Visit Mesa.

Marc Garcia is President and CEO of Visit Mesa. He had the idea to make sure employees at hotels in Mesa, local businesses, stores, and restaurants are properly trained in an autism certification program through IBCCES.

"Our whole staff and board of directors have gone through the training and several other businesses including the Mesa Chamber of Commerce and their entire board of directors, the Mesa Parks and Recreations, community facilities department, 500 employees, through it already dozens of others have either committed or are going through the program itself," says Garcia.

The primarily online training can last anywhere from one hour to 14. The goal is to have a greater interface with somebody on the autism spectrum.

"And for those who have their service would be providing lots of sensory-related type of experience then those would likely have an audit where the IBCCES staff would come and they go through your organization through the course of a day or two and then it would provide information, recommendations, a lot of information actually that would give information to what the business, the attraction could do to improve those people on the spectrum," explained Garcia.

"When our son was diagnosed with autism the instance was one in 2500, today one in 59 children across the country are being diagnosed with autism, there is not a one size fits all," said Resick.

Instead of one size fits all, it's let us make sure you fit in, you enjoy, and you feel at home when visiting Mesa, like the people who live at First Place Arizona did.

The next step is to get hospitals and the fire and police departments to train as well.

Head over to the Visit Mesa website to get information on which businesses and agencies have been trained.