Meehan, Advocates Discuss Rise In Autism Rates

Delaware County Times

Local advocates and representatives from service organizations discussed the rising rates in Autism Spectrum Disorders during a two-hour meeting with U.S. Rep. Pat Meehan, R-7, of Upper Darby, on Monday.

Last week, Meehan attended a U.S. House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing about the federal response to rising rates of Autism Spectrum Disorders. Currently, 1 in 88 children are diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder, according to a report released by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in March. Those figures show an increase from just a few years ago when the autism estimate was 1 in 150 children.

At the congressional hearing, Meehan said he challenged officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and National Institutes of Health about the need to make this issue a top priority.

Meehan said he wanted to conduct a roundtable discussion with local autism advocates after the hearing to find out more about where there are gaps in care and services for these children and their families.

Debra Dunn, outreach director for the Center of Autism Research at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, said it’s easier to track genetic causes of autism than environmental causes. She compared tracking environmental causes to “like finding a needle in a haystack.”

Meehan asked whether the increase in autism estimates is due to better diagnosis of children.

Dunn, a parent of a child diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder, said that most people would agree that better diagnosis is a reason there has been an increase in children with autism.

“There is something else going on,” she added during the meeting at the Child Guidance Resource Center in Haverford. “What? We don’t know.”

Christina Carty, executive director of the Greater Delaware Valley Chapter of Autism Speaks, said there are not enough clinicians and trained professionals to assist children diagnosed with autism.

Sue Tuckerman said she is concerned about what will happen to her two sons, who have been diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder, at the age 21.

“There’s so much that needs to be done and the world is not ready for these kids with autism,” said Tuckerman, a representative of the Autism Society of America.

Kari Kessler, training and consulting specialist for the Montgomery County Intermediate Unit, said educators need to teach aspiring teachers how to work with all students.

Dr. Jacalyn Auris, director of student services at the Chester County Intermediate Unit, said it would be helpful if the federal government allowed for blending of different funding sources for children with autism. She said sometimes, under current guidelines, multiple people have to work with one child and it would be helpful if some guidelines were loosened so that one person could legally and ethically fulfill the needs of that child.

Jeanette Alexander, supervisor of early intervention at the Delaware County Intermediate Unit, and Aimee Salas, vice president for clinical services at the Child Guidance Resource Center, discussed the benefits of an early childhood mental health advisory board that was created in Delaware County two years ago.

Salas said the working group is comprised of county administrators, child care providers and pediatricians who all work together to help children with special needs. This model has not been replicated in neighboring counties yet, according to Salas.

Dr. Amanda Guld Fisher, director of behavioral development at Melmark, said there needs to be a focus on evidence-based practices.

Frank Bartoli, executive director at the Arc of Delaware County, said that while it’s important to focus on care for children diagnosed with autism, officials and advocates need to focus on adults with autism, too.

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