Saturday, June 5, 2010

OU autism pilot program shows success

The signs that Blaine Davis wasn't quite like other toddlers came early. Even more than the fact that he didn't play well with others, he lacked the skill to point to what he wanted.

That inability to express his wants and needs meant that he would follow his mother around and cry in frustration.

"He was in his own world,” said his mother, Jennifer Davis.

"He had no way of communicating with us and he would try to communicate by crying and pushing and shoving, not in a mean way, but trying to show us what he wanted.”

But Oklahoma's Early Foundations researchers identified Blaine's autism-type behaviors and got him started in an early intervention program that Steve Davis said has generated unbelievable progress in his son.

One day after Blaine attended the playgroup at a local church, the teachers said he'd told teacher Seth Kastner that he loved him.

"I'd only heard him say, 'I love you,' one other time, that was to me,” Steve Davis said. "Being a parent of a 3-year-old child and not hearing 'I love you' is incredibly difficult.”

Now, Blaine has learned to point, use sign language and even allows his parents to touch him.

The University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center's pilot project is designed to identify the autism spectrum disorders in toddlers like Blaine.

Like Blaine, one in every 110 children has been diagnosed with the disorders, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Researchers found that autism is being reported at higher rates than ever before.

"It's a pretty significant increase in the last 10 years,” Bonnie McBride, principal investigator for the Early Foundations Project, said during a news conference Wednesday at the center.

Though children are often 2 years old by the time their autism is identified, she said the earlier an autistic child is diagnosed the better the outcome.

About the program

The Autism Workforce Initiative is Oklahoma's response to the needs of children, their families and pediatricians.

The initiative features components such as a physician training program, along with the early intervention program for young children suspected of having an autism spectrum disorder.

Children enrolled in the program receive 17 hours per week of help through activities such as play groups, intensive teaching involving behavioral techniques, weekly home visits and monthly parent education nights.

"It's awesome. It's changed our lives, it really has,” Steve Davis said.

Services are provided through Oklahoma's Early Intervention system and the model site serving roughly 10 families in Oklahoma City is funded using federal dollars through the state Department of Education.

Along with developing an intervention model through its pilot site in Oklahoma City, the project is intended to provide outreach support to other communities statewide. The project also is operating in Cleveland and Canadian counties.

The program is offered free to families of all income levels through SoonerStart, the state's early intervention program for infants and toddlers with disabilities and developmental delays.

For more information on the SoonerStart program, call 522-5167 or go to andservices/dd/ss.

Read more:

Michigan insurers should cover autism, experts tell senators looking into impact on families

May 24, 2010 • The Rossman Group
YPSILANTI, Mich. – Autism experts and parents said today at the first of four public hearings that more Michigan children with autism will go untreated unless Michigan insurers help cover medically proven therapies that families can’t afford on their own.

“It’s heartbreaking to learn your child has autism, but to find out your insurance company won’t cover treatments that would allow your child to live a fuller, more independent life – that creates such despair, and thousands of Michigan families are feeling that right now,” said Pamela Lemerand, director of the Autism Collaborative Center at Eastern Michigan University.

The center was the site of the first of the bipartisan hearings spearheaded by Sens. Randy Richardville, R-Monroe, and Tupac A. Hunter, D-Detroit. The lawmakers want to know more about the impact of the complex neurobiological condition on the families of the 15,000 children in Michigan who have autism. Autism impairs a person’s ability to communicate, learn and relate to others.

Autism affects one in every 110 children and is the fastest-growing developmental disability in the country, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. It can be effectively treated with early, intensive intervention such as speech, occupational and physical therapies, and behavioral health therapy, but treatment can cost $50,000 annually.

“We need to know firsthand how this devastating condition affects Michigan families," Richardville said. “It's important to explore various options that may represent an opportunity to help those in need and be more efficient with public funds.”

Insurance companies generally do not cover autism treatment, so 19 states have updated their insurance laws to cover it.

It is estimated that early diagnosis and intervention could save Michigan taxpayers lifetime costs of $14 billion for the current population of autistic children. The savings reflect avoided costs for supports such as long-term care and special education.

“If diagnosed and treated early, children with autism can make significant gains that affect their independence and family functioning in many ways,” said Dr. Catherine Lord, director of the University of Michigan Autism and Communication Disorders Center. “Making sure insurance companies cover early treatment just makes good fiscal sense.”

But it’s also a social injustice that needs to be addressed, Lord said. “What other medical condition with known, medically proven interventions is routinely denied coverage?"

A recent study found the state of Texas could save up to $771.5 million in special education costs alone within just the first 10 years of passing autism insurance reform legislation. In Michigan the savings could be $3 billion over the entire school lives (age 3-26) of the 15,000 children with autism.

“Without insurance reform, Michigan taxpayers will continue to be saddled with these costs and Michigan children won’t have access to medically proven therapies that can be life-changing for them and their families,” said Lorri Unumb, senior policy advisor and counsel for Autism Speaks, a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group that has helped win legislative reforms in several states.

Plans are under way for additional hearings in Detroit, Grand Rapids and Lansing.


Contact: Sharon Emery 517-896-7075 (c), 517-487-9320 (o)