Monday Medical: Combating autism together | SteamboatToday.com

Monday Medical: Combating autism together

Lu Etta Loeber

If you do not know someone or a family that is affected by Autism Spectrum Disorder, or ASD, it is only a matter of time before you will. Whether we call ASD a national epidemic or a health crisis, the fact is that the numbers of individuals being diagnosed on the spectrum are startling.

One in 150 individuals and one in 94 boys were diagnosed last year with ASD. Nationally, the rate of identified cases of this disorder is increasing 10 to 17 percent per year. Routt County and Colorado are no exception.

ASD is a neurobiological disorder that impairs a person’s ability to communicate and relate socially to others. There is no known cause or cure. Individuals with ASD exhibit repetitive behaviors and routines, may tantrum excessively and experience a wide range of sensory and medical issues.

Whole families struggle emotionally and financially as insurance and sometimes medical resources and support systems are lacking.

Yampa Valley Autism Program’s mission is to help families living with ASD. Support services include financial aid and educational resources that will enable our individuals to maximize their potential.

Our families now can utilize our respite programs in their own homes and at our “Little House” we share with Yampa Valley Medical Center. In collaboration with YVMC’s Pediatric Therapy Services, YVAP provides scholarships for occupational therapy, speech and behavioral therapies, social development programs and adaptive recreation.

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We work with physicians in screening and providing early intervention for improved long-term outcomes.

This coming year, YVAP is supporting and implementing a social thinking/mentoring program for our older individuals. We actively are pursuing bringing more highly qualified professionals to Routt County to provide diagnosis and offer additional therapies and services.

As harsh as the statistics are, there most certainly is hope. At long last, serious dollars are being committed to research for a cause and cure along with improved treatments and therapies.

The Combating Autism Act of 2006 was signed into law, for example. The law authorized increased federal funding for ASD research, public awareness and early diagnosis of ASD. Yet, federal funding did not increase to the levels authorized by the act.

President Obama now has pledged to fully fund the Combating Act of 2006. In his budget just released, the President has requested $211 million as part of the Health and Human Services budget to be directed to ASD. This money would be spent for screening, early intervention, support services and public awareness.

In Colorado, pending legislation would mandate that insurance coverage be provided for therapy and early intervention to those who are diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder. Nine states have passed this legislation; 23 other states have pending legislation.

We can make a difference for families affected by ASD. Lawmakers want to hear from us. If you want to help, you may e-mail, call or write to your senators and representatives to urge passage of the president’s budget request. In Colorado, you may contact state legislators to encourage passage of the insurance mandate.

Although we recognize the growing need in our community, Yampa Valley Autism Program is committed to sustaining our current programs. We will continue to provide quality services and educational resources for our families struggling on a day-to-day basis with this disorder.

We see the gains our children are making, their improvement at home and in school, and we know there is reason for hope. We may not know why so many individuals have ASD, but we know for certain that with our help, so many of our children will have positive outcomes.

YVAP is here to help and support our families. If you have concerns about your child, speak to your doctor. Please call us at 870-4263 or 870-6257. We will help you find the resources you need.

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

Signs of autism

Red flags, or warning signs, of Autism Spectrum Disorder in children include:

– No words by 16 months or continued lack of communication skills

– Little or no eye contact

– Repetitive behaviors and rigid routines

– Excessive tantrums

– Preference of being alone