Georgia autism project looks to boost early detection


Rina Shah

At the Marcus Autism Center in Georgia, 5-year-old Brandon and his mom are celebrating his progress at mealtimes, reports The Associated Press.  Brandon once only willingly ate fries from McDonald’s and crackers.  Now, without his mom having to battle with him, he feeds himself pureed lasagna.  The feeding disorder program at the Marcus Autism Center, a seven week program is credited with the progress.

The Marcus Autism Center, operating under the umbrella of Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, is one of three institutions designated as an Autism Center of Excellence by the National Institutes of Health.  With the state Department of Early Care and Learning, the Marcus Autism Center is part of a broader goal to enhance community outreach and build community resources for children with autism and their families. Center officials hope to eventually expand the partnership to other states and are working with federal officials to bring their work to programs nationwide.

The focus of their work is to use early detection and intervention to help children with autism spectrum disorder and their families.  Currently, there is a partnership between the center and the Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning.  The goal of this partnership is to train a group of state and contract employees to work with day care operators and pre-K providers throughout Georgia.  They will identify the early warning signs of autism and support parents as they learn about autism spectrum disorder and how to adapt.  Research shows that the symptoms of the autism spectrum disorder can be detected as early as the first two years of life and that early intervention is critical.

Recently, a group of 15 state and contract employees who work with child care and pre-K providers gathered at the autism center to begin the year-long training course.  The partnership will begin training another group in August.  At the beginning, each participant is required to identify at least two day care or pre-K programs that they will work with.  The participants help teachers learn how to detect red flags indicating potential autism spectrum disorder, how to communicate these concerns with parents, and how to develop lesson plans that accommodate these children’s needs.

According to Autism Speaks, autism spectrum disorder and autism are general terms for a group of complex disorders of brain development.  In varying degrees, children with these conditions display difficulties in social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication, and repetitive behaviors.  This family of developmental disorders include autistic disorder, Rett syndrome, childhood disintegrative disorder, pervasive developmental disorder-not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS), and Asperger syndrome.

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The focus of the project is to use early detection and intervention to help children with autism spectrum disorder and their families.

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