• What is Autism?
1. Autism is a disorder of the developing brain that causes problems with social communication to varying degrees.
2. Signs & Symptoms: child's use of words and eye contact, gestures, and body language, alongside restricted or repetitive behavior patterns. Some of these (lack of eye contact) could become apparent as early as near/shortly after birth.
• Why are we hearing more about it now?
1. For a long time the dominant thinking was autism is not getting more common & just being diagnosed more frequently, but it seems more & more likely the rates are increasing
2. What is still not clear is whether the rate is leveling off, and there is state-to-state variation, which makes the ongoing CDC data collection very important
1. Autism appears to be caused by a mixture of environmental and genetic factors - it is very important that we be thinking about what those environmental factors (air pollution is one possibility) are and what we can do about them. While the answers to prevention and the cause of autism is still somewhat unclear, what we should do is focus on intervention - which is showing us very promising results.
• The Importance of Intervention.
1. With the right help, people with autism can frequently live a full life including independence and employment in adulthood, especially when those individuals receive early, intensive therapy.
2. Tools are in place to systematically identify children from a young age, as young as 18 months and potentially in the next few years at 12 months
3. We use intensive, 1:1 behavioral interventions to help them gain all the skills their normally developing peers do
4. For example, we are seeing tremendous progress at Hope Network's Center for Autism in children who receive early and regular therapy. Children who without any treatment might have spent their life in a group home. Instead some of the children we're treating have reached the potential to not only live independently but in some cases will be able go to college and seek employment as adults.
• What parents can do:
1. Parents who are concerned about autism should talk to their pediatrician. There are simple questionnaires that the pediatrician can use with the family to determine if autism is a concern, and if it is, we recommend following up with needed diagnostics (testing for lead exposure, etc.) and a specialist evaluation with someone like myself. From there, we can develop a comprehensive treatment plan with the family and physician, and coordinate in-clinic therapies with medical, school, and community services.
• Going Forward: Two things were missing
1. A financial mechanism: Insurances did not cover the therapy in most cases, and most people could not afford it
• Michigan started fixing this issue last year, extending this with Medicaid coverage in April. Still have a ways to go... some parents are not educated about their rights/what's available for their child. Still not enough services/practitioners to help the children who need help today.
2. Provider networks: Needed so children throughout the US (and ultimately the world) would receive the same quality of care, in the way that cancer is treated very similarly in rural Iowa and in Manhattan.
• This is what we are currently trying to tackle. We are trying to grow not just scattered services but a high quality network for treatment.
• This is beginning to work here in Grand Rapids, as well as in Detroit and Kalamazoo, and we are already seeing tremendous success with Michigan children.
• The next step will be to grow it statewide.
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