Kids Like Us community center prepares for new location this month

Published 8:09 am Tuesday, December 4, 2018

When Kids Like Us started, it was small, but when the community said the need was great, the organization decided it was time to be as great as the community needed them to be.

Founder Lisa Lyons formed Kids Like Us just last year, and after a year of unexpected growth, she said it is finally time to expand.

“We grew out of the original building,” Lyons said. “We have about 70 kids a week, and we did not have the room to accommodate them.”

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Kids Like Us is a community center dedicated to serving children with disabilities, including autism.

Lyons said the center focuses on teaching life skills, and now that the center is expanding, she says they finally have the capabilities to truly shine.

“We teach them by applying real life in a simulation,” she said. The center will include an efficiency-sized, mock apartment for the older children to practice and learn what it is like to live on their own.

“They will get a bill in the mail and we will ask them what they need to do with it,” Lyons said. “If they forget to do that, they will not have electricity and we will ask them what happened and how to fix it.”

She said one of the biggest improvements to the center, however, is a system known as Liima, a virtual reality system designed to help panicked children to calm themselves using a variety of techniques.

“If someone is calmed by playing fetch with their dog, Liima can run a program of them playing fetch with a dog,” she said.

The technology also serves to collect data on what calming and learning techniques work and what does not, allowing for improvements in the future, all of which are tailored to specific users and methods that work for them specifically.

Lyons said the inspiration for creating the center came from her experiences with her 17-year-old son and his autism.

“When he hit middle school, the services were fewer,” Lyons said. “I got tired of hearing ‘He’s too old,’ and I thought we needed to find a place for people like him, a place where people with disabilities can learn how to function together.”

She said this dream manifested into her design for the center.

“We focus on their different abilities, not disabilities,” Lyons said.

She said the success of the center’s first year was unexpected, but she said it was proof the need is present in the community.

“We went from paper to 30,000 square feet,” Lyons said. “I never dreamed it would happen as fast as it has.”

She said the children have not yet seen the new center, but said their reactions are what keep her going.

“You cannot put money on their smiling faces,” she said. “It tells me we are doing something right.”

Work is still underway at the new location, but Lyons said there will be an open house on opening day, from December 14 to December 16 at 655 Watauga Road.

She said the open house is an opportunity to showcase the new additions to the center and experience Liima firsthand.

She said the center’s expansion is proof of their purpose as a center.

“It is not just a game,” Lyons said. “It is life-changing.”