Children with autism grow up to be adults with autism. How those adults function at work, at home and in the community depends upon one key element: support.
Individuals diagnosed on the autism spectrum require communication- and behavioral-based support, according to Janice Hanson, the Director of Outpatient Services at Glenwood Autism and Behavioral Health Center.
Glenwood Outpatient Services offers twofold support — clinical and educational — by handling all assessments, diagnoses and recommendations to patients, providing both psychological and psychiatric care. Additionally, Hanson’s team trains families and educators throughout the state on the types of support persons diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder require.
On February 22, Glenwood’s junior board will host A Night Under the Big Top at The Club. The fundraiser — which includes a silent and live auction, casino games, food and drink, and live music from the Undergrounders — will benefit Glenwood’s Outpatient Services. Last year’s event raised more than $180,000.
“The funds from the Big Top event will help provide services at a reduced or low cost fee for those who don’t have the ability to pay,” Hanson says. “Although insurance may cover some of the cost, most insurance companies don’t cover the true cost for what it takes to do a full psychiatric evaluation. All of those funds help support the work we do in Outpatient Services.”
Hanson, a licensed counselor who has served Glenwood for 20 years, emphasizes that the earlier the diagnosis, the better the chances an autistic individual will function better in public school, on a job and in social settings.
“If you can begin working with a child prior to the age of 3, particularly from 3 to 5 years of age,” Hanson says, “many of those children are going to achieve a much better outcome in the long run than when you start [support] after age 5.
“For instance, we have a preschool on campus for children ages 2 to 5,” Hanson says. “Our goal is to get those children ready to enter into a regular public school kindergarten. Many of those children will go into kindergarten not needing any supports.”
For the children who will still require educational or behavioral supplements, Hanson explains, the early preschool work will stave off the type of intensive support late-diagnosis children need. In either case, then, the relief — on children, their families and school systems — would be immense were children diagnosed early.
Physicians currently screen infants every six months to ensure that a child reaches developmental milestones on time. Glenwood’s Outpatient Services offers screening for individuals of any age.
“Mainly we are looking at whether or not the child has reached those developmental milestones in a timely manner,” Hanson says. “We’re looking at communication, and not just verbal communication. Are [children] making eye contact and responding to their caregivers and people in the environment? We’re looking at communication and socialization.”
For adolescents and adults, screening services are geared toward a patient’s needs. “Usually, adults come in because they may be feeling distress or difficulty in their environment. We might recommend social skills groups or other kinds socialization activities.
“Oftentimes with elementary, middle or high [school students], we’ll go into the school systems and assist those individuals with getting special services within their school setting — like a social skills group, special communication training, behavioral intervention, things of that sort.”
Glenwood has contracts with the State Department of Education and sends consultants into school systems (in nearly 50 of Alabama’s 67 counties to date) to determine if a child of any age meets the criteria for autism outlined in current special education regulations.
“If they do, that will qualify them to receive special education services within the school setting,” Hanson says. Glenwood also addresses specific teacher requests. Hanson says they get calls from educators who say, “I have a child on the spectrum; I’m not sure how to work with him. Will you come and help me set up the best strategies in the classroom to help meet the needs of a child? What can I do to deal with difficult behavior? How do I help that child with social skills?”
Glenwood helps by educating state educators. This summer, Outpatient Services will again offer teacher training on its 363 acre campus, tucked away in one of Alabama’s TREASURE forests. “Last year, we trained over 150 teachers,” Hanson says. “One of the goals we have is to build capacity in local school systems statewide. We’re not trying to do it all here. We’re trying to train people statewide to be able to serve children and families in their home communities.”
Recently, AL.com reported that autism spectrum disorder cases in the U.S. among residents aged 3 to 21 are increasing at 488 percent. From 2000 to 2010, Alabama’s rates climbed at 517 percent.
As rates of autism rise in Alabama, Glenwood’s Outpatient Services strive to offset the numbers by educating families, schools and communities on how to best build an infrastructure of support.
For more information on Glenwood Autism and Behavioral Health Center, click here. A Night Under the Big Top will be February 22 at 8 p.m. at The Club. Tickets are $60 prior to the event and $75 at the door. For further information and tickets, contact Martha King at (205) 795-3294 or firstname.lastname@example.org.