Breaking Down the Barriers of Autism
BREAKING DOWN THE BARRIERS OF AUTISM:
Local Resources for KC Families
Often it begins around 18 months of age. A child who can speak, even form sentences, stops talking. Gradually he seems to lose interest in engaging with others. Developmental gains disappear. The child seems locked in his own world. He has autism.
Autism is an umbrella term encompassing a number of neurological disorders characterized by deficits in language, developmental and social skills. While there is no cure for autism, an American Academy of Pediatrics clinical report states that “children who receive early intensive behavioral treatment have been shown to make substantial, sustained gains in IQ, language, academic performance and adaptive behavior” as compared with untreated children.
That’s where Community Living Opportunities (CLO) comes in. The organization was founded to serve adults with disabilities, but the Autism Network, housed in two buildings at 80th St. & Metcalf Ave. in Overland Park, as well as the main office in Lawrence, has been providing services for kids since 1996. The program uses a variety of strategies to serve children from diagnosis until age 21. These include positive behavior supports (PBS), in which trained consultants help families deal with a child’s challenging behaviors in the home; outreach consultation; and early intensive behavior intervention (EIBI). This past April, CLO opened Mason’s House, a center dedicated to early intervention.
“Research supports that 25 to 40 hours a week of EIBI is the most effective treatment for children with autism,” says Stephanie Thorne, director of CLO’s Children’s Network, which oversees the Autism Network. The cornerstone of the program is applied behavior analysis therapy (ABA), a frequently recommended treatment for children with autism. “It’s kind of like building blocks,” explains Thorne. By breaking down skills into smaller component tasks, ABA learners move from simple activities to more complex and naturalized ones that stress language and social development. “Positive reinforcement is definitely key,” Thorne adds. “We really strive to make it a fun learning environment.”
Just as important, she says, is to help kids generalize the skills they learn in therapy. CLO also runs Johnson County Montessori Preschool, which is next door to Mason’s House and serves as a natural inclusionary setting for students with special needs. Therapists accompany the child to whatever activities her plan calls for, including lunch with peers, dance, music or other parts of the preschool’s year-round curriculum.
The commitment of time and patience pays off big for these children. Seeing those gains is the best part of Thorne’s job. “Their communication skills increase, their social skills are increasing, they tend to have a decrease in problem behaviors,” she says. The benefits then carry over when children start public school. Says Thorne, “We definitely believe that early intensive—stressing intensive—is key” to overcoming as many obstacles as possible, allowing these children to live complete, well rounded lives—just like their peers.
GETTING IN TOUCH:
Community Living Opportunities (CLO)
2113 Delaware St.
Lawrence, KS 66046
Contact: Sara Quick, Director of the Autism Network
A fantastic resource of information and guidance, especially for parents with newly diagnosed children. Download The 100-Day Kit, which offers an action plan, overview of therapies, list of resources and a glimpse into how your child sees the world. Find other toolkits to help with school issues, transitions and even managing the dentist at www.autismspeaks.org/family-services/tool-kits.
Autism Society–The Heartland
This local chapter of the nationwide group provides resources and support for families of children on the spectrum. At three monthly support groups (Overland Park; Kansas City, MO; and North Kansas City), parents share their stories with others who’ve been there. The organization also sponsors “ASD-friendly” screenings of current films at selected theaters. Films are shown with the lights up and the volume lowered. Families can bring their own snacks, and no one minds if your child dances around the theater during the show. For more info, go to www.ASAHeartland.org/community/events.
Kansas Center for Autism Research and Training (K-CART)
12600 Quivira Rd.
270 Regnier Hall
Overland Park, KS 66213
Kansas University has long been a leader in the study of the causes and management of autism-spectrum disorders. Their work runs the gamut from early-intervention therapies to programs to help kids with ASD prepare for college and the workforce. Visit the website to access parent resources and learn about various programs that might be available for your child. K-CART partners with KU Medical Center’s Center for Childhood Health and Development to offer diagnosis and therapy.
Shawnee resident Claire M. Caterer writes frequently about children with special needs.