Autism: early detection and what schools can do to help

Autism: early detection and what schools can do to help. Claudia Coco / WGXA News

MACON, Ga -- According to the Center for Disease control one in 68 children are diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder, Autism covers a range of challenges that children have with social kills, repetitive behaviors, speech and non-verbal communication. One Middle Georgia family, was lucky they caught it early.

Michael and Anna Bennett from Macon started noticing signs of autism in their son around age one and a half.

"It was always a kind of a conversation in our house," Michael said.

Michael said Stevie wasn't hitting those milestones.

"He was delayed a little bit developmentally, he wasn't reaching some of those goals," Michael said.

Stevie, their son, was in speech therapy for an unrelated issue when his therapists confirmed what the Bennetts were noticing. The therapists sent the Bennetts to Licensed Psychologist Dr. Michael Johns at the Autism and Developmental Center at Navicent Health.

In Stevie's case, he showed more classic signs of autism, he's non-verbal, he showed sensory sensitivity, hand-flapping, and rocking. Dr. Johns said since the autism spectrum is so wide sometimes symptoms get overlooked.

"Others might be less obvious like an intense interest in a movie, wanting to watch it over and over again, or other kinds of specific play," Dr. Johns said. "People always quote lining things up, or lining toys up."

Dr. Johns said early intervention, like in Stevie's case, can make all the difference. A study done by the American Academy for Pediatrics said early intervention in children 18 months to 30 months of age can increase an autistic child's IQ and receptiveness by 18 points in two years.

"The more likely you're going to make them speed up the progress they're going to make across their years," Dr. Johns said. "Studies show early intervention, such as speech, physical, and occupational therapies given at a early age have the greatest impact."

Dr. Johns said each child needs a different amount of therapy based on the severity of the diagnosis. Autism Speaks and autism advocacy organization said a child diagnosed with Autism can cost a family $60,000 dollars a year.

Insurance does cover speech, occupational, and physical therapy, but public schools do offer those therapies for free. The Director of Special Education in Bibb County Schools, Jennifer Mellor, said the school system also provides free evaluations for autism, which helps lay out each child's individual education plan.

"It's driven by their IEP," Mellor said. "It's driven by the strengths and weakness patterns that, that child has and eligibility driven."

Mellor said they have 300 children with autism in the Bibb County School system. She said some parents may miss the signs at home, however teachers are given extra training to recognize the signs of autism..

"We provide RTI, which is response to intervention," Mellor said. "So when students are acting differently, whether its socially, behaviorally, or academically the teachers are working on interventions, and then collecting data to see is it getting better or is it getting worse?"

Mellor agrees that early detection is a benefit.

"The school system has speech language pathologists, occupational therapists, and physical therapists that are trained in supporting all students," Mellor said.

They also have a Licensed Behavioral Analyst on staff to support teachers and students for a more personalized learning plan that fits each child's individual needs.

The Bennetts said every day Stevie surpises them and because of early intervention they have seen Stevie make major strides.

Mellor said if you think your child has autism, regardless of the school district you can ask teachers or school officials, for an evaluation.

Parents can also contact the Autism and Developmental Center at Navicent Health here.

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