Autism affects one in every 91 children, and the prevalence has risen. The North Dakota Center for Persons with Disabilities is working to help families affected by autism, and to spread awareness of the condition.
"It's on the rise everywhere in the nation," said Wendy Thomas, community services coordinator for the center. "North Dakota is seeing the same thing happen with an increase in the number of kids being diagnosed and served in our schools."
"There's always improvements being made in the diagnosis and treatment of autism, but there is still work to be done," she added. "We're constantly looking for new grant opportunities to expand our services and supports."
Submitted Photo - - Jennifer Hefter, faculty member for Minot State University’s Special Education Department, works with a participant at a clinic.
Thomas explained that some of the gaps in services individuals in the state are experiencing are a lack of highly trained professionals in the field of autism and transition services to help those with autism transition between youth and adulthood.
The center has been working to address the needs of individuals with autism through several programs under its Autism Initiative. Current programming includes the Great Plains Autism Spectrum Disorders Treatment Program and the Great Plains Inter-Disciplinary Autism Diagnostic Clinic.
"We've hosted around 10 clinics a year, and we've generated more interest through our clinics and increased awareness about autism," Thomas said. "We've worked with Head Start in doing general screening and within medical communities."
Upcoming training: Making sense of autism spectrum disorders research
The North Dakota Center for Persons with Disabilities will present training on Evidence-Based Autism Spectrum Disorders Research and bringing research to practice on July 16 from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at the Minot State University Student Center Third Floor Conference Center.
Parents, educators and direct service providers will participate in a table event showcasing some of the new technologies available for people with ASD and also take part in a panel discussion with guest panelists. For more information contact Jessica Love at 1-800-233-1737 or send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Possible indicators of autism spectrum disorders
+ Does not babble, point, or make meaningful gestures by 1 year of age
+ Does not speak one word by 16 months
+ Does not combine two words by 2 years
+ Does not respond to name
+ Loses language or social skills
"We have also run several research projects, and have researched utilizing technology to provide support to rural families," she said.
As the Great Plains Autism Spectrum Disorders Treatment Program enters its second year, the focus has been on diagnosing autism. The program has used an interdisciplinary approach, involving physicians, special education professionals with autism certification training, and psychologists. The team does observations of the child at home and in class, and interviews parents and teachers.
"When we surveyed 300 people on receiving a diagnosis, the general answer was that they received a diagnosis from a single professional during a visit, usually a psychologist," Thomas said.
"In North Dakota, children can also carry an educational diagnosis made by school teams, which is separate from a medical or clinical diagnosis," she added.
The goal of the interdisciplinary team is to make a holistic diagnosis, and determine what services could best benefit the individual.
"Autism really does affect multiple systems for that child and that family," Thomas said. "The effects differ depending on how severely the child is affected by autism."
"Fair isn't always getting the same services, but in getting the services that you need," she added.
For families seeking a diagnosis, Thomas explained, they can contact the center and meet with a family support specialist who has researched service and support options in the Minot area. Those with general suspicions should speak to their child's pediatrician. Pediatricians have received information on how to screen for autism.
"Generally, kids are diagnosed between ages 2 and 3, but they have been able to diagnose kids as early as 1 year of age," Thomas said. "At 2, that's usually when you see the gaps in development start, with delays in language, social skills, and some of the stereotypical behaviors of autism."
Though the general population accepts that there is no cure for autism, Thomas said, early intervention can get kids started on the right track.
"Early intervention can minimize effects," Thomas said. "It also provides information for parents on how to help their children learn and grow."