For families who have children with autism, finding help can be exhausting and often includes traveling all over the state from one specialist to another. Now there is a promising program diagnosing and treating kids earlier and all in one place at the UNLV Medicine Ackerman Autism Center.
During a session on Monday morning, three-year-old Sergio Martin was engaged in what looks like just normal child’s play, but it was a major milestone for him. His father, also named Sergio, said that his son has changed a lot and that change has come in just three short months of work.
Dr. Julie Beasley is the director of the Ackerman Autism Center
“Families can come here and we can quickly look at our babies and figure out what's going on,” Beasley said. “And what they need and help navigate the community for them.”
Before Sergio started treatment his father says he threw frequent temper tantrums, slept poorly and cried constantly. But now after four hours of therapy five days a week, he is like a different child.
“He is interacting better, saying hi to people,” Martin said. “People call his name and he turns around.”
Sergio and his family are part of a pilot program called the Early Start Denver Model, which includes diagnosing kids as young as a year old.
The program is expensive and not covered by insurance. Families are getting help with the cost through the Autism Treatment Assistance Program. The goal is to increase social engagement so that the children are more interested in interacting with people and less interested in being alone or participating in repetitive activities.
Julie Cole, a speech pathologist, explained.
“So, while it looks like we are just playing, in our minds we have very specific things we are targeting through this play activities,” said Cole.
While the results are promising, it's still not widely available. That’s something the center hopes changes soon.
"We still have too long of a wait,” said Beasley. “Because any wait for a child who has a need is too long."
The center is hoping to improve on the Early Start Denver Model and then present it to other insurance companies to consider it for coverage, so that more families can take advantage of it.