NELA, La. (KNOE) - The Autism Center at ULM has been working with families in Northeast Louisiana for two years, and they say the need is vast. “We've had roughly 200 referrals so far since 2016, so we know there's a great need, but we know there are more people we can reach,” says Dr. David Irwin, Director of the Autism Center.
The center evaluates children to see if they have children, refers them to treatment locations and gives them background on different therapy options. Now, with the $10,000 grant, they’ll come up with a tool-kit for families, listing what resources are available for people in rural areas. Throughout 2019, they’ll study fifty families with autistic children and understand what resources are most important for them and try to find a way to bring those resources to smaller cities.
Dr. Irwin says it’s increasingly difficult for families with an autistic child to get the treatment they need when it’s an hour drive away. “It costs gas, it costs time to get to places and a lot of times they don’t have the money for those types of things,” says Irwin.
“Sometimes they want to go to a specialist and learn how they might help their child, so a lot of times when they get in these rural areas there's just nowhere to turn to,” says Irwin.
ABA Therapy Solutions understands the struggle for families, so they opened up clinics in smaller cities in NELA (Winnsboro, Calhoun, and Bastrop). “It's more realistic for the kids to stay longer or come more days to get the hours that they need just because it's right there,” says Lillian Stanley, Program Director for ABA Therapy Solutions’ Winnsboro office.
For young kids, Stanley says it makes all the difference having resources available. “If you start intervention at a young age then they're being taught how to act in society appropriately, and how to learn these skills,” says Stanley. “The older they get, I mean once you've been doing something for ten to fifteen years, it's harder to teach them otherwise."
Irwin is hoping ULM’s Medical School will help them bring more treatment options for Autistic children in NELA. “Once we have the medical school here at ULM we feel like we can move into research trials and different treatments,” says Irwin.
The Autism Center will begin teaching fifteen credit hours of Autism-based classes at ULM to educate the community.