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More children in Florida will be screened for autism and additional caregivers trained to provide proven therapies thanks to a grant from the State of Florida that will fund the Nemours Early Autism Intervention Program.
“Early identification and treatment allows children on the autism spectrum reach their full potential,” said Dr. Leslie Gavin, clinical psychologist at Nemours Children’s Hospital. “Nemours and our partners will be able help so many Florida children thanks to Governor Scott and legislative leaders.”
Specifically, the funds from the State of Florida will be used to:
- Build the team at Nemours Children’s Health System to reach more families may receive comprehensive diagnostic evaluations and a roadmap of necessary therapies. The first goal of the current proposal is to provide evaluations for 100 children regardless of ability to pay.
- Train professionals to become board-certified behavioral analysts (BCBA). This is the training that is needed to provide that roadmap of proven therapies for children with autism spectrum disorders in Florida. Nemours will also provide training for two psychology doctoral students in early diagnosis of autism.
- Educate 30 primary care physicians and 25 residents and medical students to increase their awareness of early signs of autism.
The state funding will also allow for the training of 6–8 additional BCBAs, which will eventually lead to 600 children receiving an average of 20 hours of therapy a week. Nemours is already partnering with the Scott Center for Autism Treatment at Florida Institute of Technology (FIT), helping students to become BCBAs.
“This is truly a wise investment in the future by the State of Florida,” said Dr. Yr Sigurdartottir, pediatric neurologist at Nemours Children’s Hospital. “Early identification and diagnosis of toddlers with delays in development suggestive of an autism spectrum disorder is paramount. Diagnosis paves the way to comprehensive therapy which can result in more productive and independent individuals as they mature into adulthood. We need to increase the job participation of this group as roughly 50 percent of them have no paid employment as adults at all. Florida adults of working age and ability who aren’t employed become an expense to their families and the state. With these funds, we will help more children with autism reach their potential.”
The long-term thinking is the results of a 1998 study where researcher Dr. John Jacobson demonstrated that providing behavioral treatment to children with autism for three years — delivered between the ages of 2 and 6 years old — would save approximately $200,000 per child for ages 3-22 years and up to $1 million per child for ages 3–55 years.
The funding will also bring mobile community screenings to families who may not have been seen by a primary care doctor; and provide additional training to families with a child on the autism spectrum disorder.
“This is an important step forward, but families with children with autism spectrum disorders will still face adversities,” said Sigurdardottir. “Even with this funding, there will continue to be challenges providing Florida’s autistic youth timely services that ensure the long-term potential for better outcomes — for each and every child.”