Local autism resources offer professional and personal supportApril is National Autism Awareness Month. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported last month that 1 in 88 American children suffer from this neurological disorder, up from 1 in 5,000 children in 1975.
By: Thomas Vaughn, For the Budgeteer News
April is National Autism Awareness Month. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported last month that 1 in 88 American children suffer from this neurological disorder, up from 1 in 5,000 children in 1975. Part of the growth in cases comes from newer diagnostic categories that allow for a broader array of symptoms.
Here in the Northland, there are several helpful options for parents and caregivers managing the formidable challenges that autism presents.
Steve Bauer, M.D. is a child and adolescent psychiatrist and chief medical officer at the Human Development Center in Duluth. HDC offers ongoing therapeutic, case management and outreach services for children with autism. Dr. Bauer points out that a diagnosis of autism indicates the most severe version of childhood developmental delay.
“When we see delays in speech or delays in fine motor control, or those kinds of global deficits, as we refer to them, then there is a slower developing brain or areas in the brain that aren’t keeping up or are developing at different rates,” said Bauer.
Autism, which interrupts neural development in very young children, is costly for families. In 2012, Americans spent $126 billion on treatments for autism. Depending on the level of care, the cost to a family can run from up to $25,000, to more than $60,000 per year, according to Autism Speaks co-founder Bob Wright.
In Duluth, the Scottish Rite Clinic for Childhood Language Disorders offers autism treatment on a sliding fee scale to help families and caregivers keep costs down. Therefore, there is a continual need to raise funds from other sources, according to Carol Roberts, director of the clinic. Locally, the Eddy Foundation, the Ordean Foundation, Miller-Dwan, Essentia Health, the Northland Foundation and the Lloyd K. Johnson Foundation have supported the clinic’s work with autistic children.
The clinic offers a treatment approach that trains both the child and the adult. This promotes a carry-over process that helps adults guide children who are taking skills, learned in the autism room, into broader family and social situations. For example, if a child learns to pick up and set down objects calmly during play therapy, the adult can borrow a like therapeutic toy from the clinic’s lending library to help the carry-over process continue later on, in an unstructured setting.
“We feel very strongly that without training an adult alongside of the child we don’t get as far, because we need an adult to carry over those skills that are learned in therapy. So, we incorporate parents into the actual therapy day-to-day at the clinic. It’s one thing to watch, but it’s another thing to understand why you should say and do certain things with the child. We’ve had good results,” said Roberts.
Dena Filipovich is a parent of an 8-year-old autistic daughter, diagnosed at 18 months with the disorder. Filipovich also serves on the board of the Autism Association of Northern Minnesota, a local support group for people who care for people with autism. The group recently sponsored a Walk for Autism held in Leif Erickson Park in Duluth, in which 45 people participated.
“Anyone who deals with autism at all is welcome to come to our meetings. If your child doesn’t always have the best behavior, you can bring your child and we’re understanding. You’re safe with us,” said Filipovich, who points out that autism is often ignored by people who don’t recognize it.
“People can’t see it. It’s not like Down ’s syndrome or a kid in a wheelchair where you can see it. It’s kind of silent that way.”
Tahirih Bushey is a clinically certified primary and elementary speech and language pathologist with Duluth Edison Charter Schools in Duluth, who works with autistic students.
“Children who have autism have quite a lot of underlying neurological differences, and we’re starting to understand that better as we’re starting to look more deeply into genetics and into the brain itself. You can have five kids with autism and they have five different underlying disorders neurologically, but all of them have the effect of disrupting social development,” says Bushey.
Bushey says that during her 15 years in Duluth, understanding of autism has improved, the number of doctors who refer for assessments has grown, and access to the growing base of information is wider.
“It’s very heartening to see how many people actually know something about autism and are interested in these kids and enjoy being with these kids,” says Bushey, who affirms that with early and effective treatment, these young children often grow into socially capable adults.
To learn more about autism, visit www.autismspeaks.org. For information about local treatment, contact the Scottish Rite Clinic (www.scottishriteclinicduluth.org) at (218)720-3911 or the Human Development Center (www.humandevelopmentcenter.org) at (218)728-4491.