County joins collaboration on autism education

April is Autism Awareness Month, and Seneca County is one of more than 40 counties across the state participating in a project aimed at combatting the disorder.

Seneca County Board of Developmental Disabilities and staff members from Help Me Grow joined the Autism Diagnosis Education Project, a statewide project administered by the Ohio Center for Autism and Low Incidence in collaboration with Akron Children’s Hospital/Family Child Learning Center. Rick Gagnon, director of children services, stated the project aims to increase local autism diagnostic capacity with existing resources in Seneca County.

Amber Crow, early intervention specialist, and Colleen Newman, registered nurse, are in the midst of live and online training to evaluate children suspected of having autism.

They plan to take their findings and partner with a physician, Dr. Sherri Thomas of Center for Child Development in Bowling Green, who would provide the medical component of an autism evaluation. Together, the team would make a diagnosis using internationally recognized evidence-based tools.

“We are seeing an increase in the number of children referred to our program with parent concerns of autism-like behaviors.,” Crow said. “ADEP seemed like a good fit for our county since there are not a lot of autism-specific resources or specialists available locally.”

“Some families travel hours to receive these evaluations,” stated Dr. John Duby, director of developmental-behavior pediatrics at Akron Children’s Hospital, and ADEP medical director. “It’s a new way of thinking about how we interact with our youngest children and their families.”

Autism is a developmental disorder that affects a child’s ability to communicate, interact and play with others. A recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report stated 1 in 50 school-aged children has autism. Using the most recent data from the Ohio Department of Health’s Bureau of Vital Statistics, the average would suggest 12 children are born with autism in Seneca County ever year.

Gagnon said autism often isn’t diagnosed until kindergarten, when in fact it can be recognized even in the first year of life.

By getting involved in ADEP, Gagnon said he hopes to have children diagnosed earlier, getting them quicker access to early intervention services that can help the child and family.

“ADEP expedites the diagnosis process for the family, since we can provide developmental evaluations, screenings and the autism diagnostic observation schedule right here in our county,” Newman stated. “The children are already familiar with our staff, so it just makes sense for us to initiate the process saving the family time, money and stress. We have heard nothing but positive feedback from the families that have participated thus far.”

Gagnon said the ADEP training comes at no cost to the county. The Ohio Department of Developmental Disabilities is supporting ADEP through $1.325 million in federal grant funding to OCALI.

To learn more about the ADEP or Help Me Grow program, call (419) 447-7674.