Autism a national health crisis

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Community resources

For the next several weeks, we will be highlighting six programs that support women's health and newborn care, in the Steamboat Today and the Craig Daily Press. It is my hope that through these programs, the continued health of this very vibrant part of Colorado will continue to grow. Some of the programs to be highlighted include Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association Public Health Programs, Yampa Valley Autism Program, Newborn Network, First Impressions of Routt County, Horizon's and Steamboat Mental Health/SEED Project. We all know how difficult it is to have good insurance and access to care. What we may not know is how many support programs are available for families in Routt and Moffat Counties.

- James M. Summers, DO/MS, FACOG, Director of Inpatient Obstetrical Services, Yampa Valley Medical Center

Four years ago, a group of parents began meeting to share some very special concerns and daily challenges they each faced. This was more just than a social gathering. Each parent had a child with autism or related disability and felt overwhelmed with a lack of resources and support from the community. From this "grassroots" parents group grew the Yampa Valley Autism Program, which now serves all of Northwest Colorado and offers services and assistance to the families affected by this devastating disorder.

Autism is a neurobiological disorder that impairs a person's ability to communicate and relate to others. The disorder is also associated with rigid and repetitive routines, excessive tantrums, and sensory and specialized medical issues.

The spectrum is broad; symptoms can be mild or severe.

In 2007, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed that autism is now a national health crisis. One in 150 children are diagnosed with a form of the spectrum. For boys, the statistics are even more startling - 1 in 94. There is no proven cause or cure, but early intervention therapy services are vital in order to help children maximize their potential. For the first time, pediatricians are now urged to screen twice for this disorder, at 18 months and again at 24 months.

Family Support Services

Based on need assessment, the program reimburses parents for specialized behavioral, medical and educational therapies not covered by other options. It also provides funds for assistive technologies such as communication tools, software, specialized keyboards and transportation needs.

Respite Care

Yampa Valley Autism Program offers two phases of respite. Autism affects the whole family. Time away to simply run errands or spend time with siblings provides a caretaker a chance to take a "breather" from the 24/7 demands of this disorder. The program offers eight hours a month of in-home respite with highly qualified caregivers we have trained and screened. An evening program, twice a month, is now being implemented, where parents can safely leave their child for a few hours in a structured program.

Pediatric Therapy Services

This service offers comprehensive therapy programs for children with all types of special needs. Therapeutic programs for children and young adults are available at the "Little House" on Pine Grove Road. Individualized therapy services may include Occupational Therapy, Speech Therapy, Physical Therapy, Home Programming, Behavioral Consultation, Social Development Programs and Adaptive Recreation. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends a child with autism or related disabilities should be actively engaged in intensive intervention at least 25 hours a week, 12 months a year, with a low student-teacher ratio that allows for sufficient one-on-one time. Parents are encouraged - and need - to participate.

Social Development Groups

The goal of this group is to increase the children's abilities to get along with others, make friends, and handle and express frustrations appropriately. Improving self-confidence and cooperation with peers and adults is also an important part of their development. The program is staffed by occupational, speech and physical therapists and takes place throughout the year. There are groups for both pre-school and school-age children with new programs forming as needed.

Some Autism Red Flags:

- No words by 16 months

- Little or no eye contact

- No back & forth of gestures, sharing of sounds, smiles

- Repetitive behaviors & inflexibility about routines

- Excessive tantrums

- Preference of being alone

If you have concerns about your child's development, don't wait. Speak to your pediatrician about having your child screened. Early intervention is vital. The Yampa Valley Autism Program can help you find the resources you need.

For more information about our programs and services, contact the program at 870-4263 or 870-6257.

Lu Etta Loeber is executive director of the Yampa Valley Autism Program.

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