The USA College of Education and the University’s Polling Group announced results of a needs assessment on Autism Spectrum Disorders, ASD, which says more funding, services and training need to be provided.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, an estimated 30,000 people in the state of Alabama have ASD. The report says one out of every 150 individuals in the United States has one of the autism disorders. Autism is a developmental disability that affects a person’s ability to socially interact and communicate with others.
The Alabama Council for Developmental Disabilities provided grant funding for two autism needs assessment studies. USA’s College of Education and the USA Polling Group received a $25,000 grant to conduct the second needs assessment, which was a statewide telephone poll. The University of Alabama at Birmingham conducted the first needs assessment.
Dr. Dennis Campbell, assistant professor of special education and principal investigator for the grant, said a total 746 surveys were completed between Jan. 21 and Feb. 7, 2008. Co-principal investigators on this project are Dr. Abigail Baxter, associate professor of USA leadership and teacher education; Dr. David Ellis, professor of USA leadership and teacher education; and Director of the USA Polling Group Dr. Keith Nicholls, associate professor of political science.
“The survey addressed general knowledge of ASD, attitudes toward individuals with autism and their families, educational issues, adult care issues and the willingness to encourage the state government to provide more financial and educational support,” Campbell said. “We are confident that this study will provide state lawmakers with pertinent information as they discuss how to improve the care for those with autism.”
The survey said more than 80 percent of people in Alabama had some knowledge of autism. Almost 80 percent of those surveyed consider autism a medium-sized problem, saying families need more assistance. Nearly 80 percent said that parents should not be expected to provide the necessary services by themselves.
“The University of South Alabama is honored to have been asked to conduct this statewide survey of Alabama’s citizens regarding their knowledge and understanding of autism,” said Dr. Richard L. Hayes, dean of the USA College of Education. “Through a significant collaboration among faculty in the College of Education and the USA Polling Group, the findings of this survey have resulted in several important recommendations to the Alabama State Legislature that recognize the critical need to assist persons with autism and their families.”
Campbell presented the results of the survey to the Alabama Autism Task Force during Autism Awareness Day at the state capitol in Montgomery on April 3. State Rep. Cam Ward serves as chair of that task force.
“I believe these results reflect the growing trend of increased awareness in Alabama about autism,” Ward said. “We have a long way to go in striving for adequate services for those with autism, but this needs assessment provides a starting point.”
Jennifer Muller, executive director for the Autism Society of Alabama, said autism is a growing problem in the state and the results of the needs assessment will help bring awareness, provide education and secure financial help from the state government.
“We know that autism is a lifelong developmental disability,” Muller noted. “We will take the needs assessment and look at the different ages and stages of life and find out what is happening with individuals with autism. We want to make the system better for the people who need the services because we want them to be more productive and have a better quality of life.”
USA Developmental Behavioral Pediatricians Drs. Franklin Trimm and Hanes Swingle said the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that all children receive developmental screening at 9, 18, and 30 months of age with a standardized, validated instrument, and that all children receive an autism-specific screening at 18 and 24 months of age.
Trimm, professor and vice chair of pediatrics and Swingle, associate professor of pediatrics at USA, established the USA Autism Diagnostic Clinic in April 2007. The clinic, located near the USA Children’s and Women’s Hospital, is one of two in the state of Alabama that provides multidisciplinary evaluations, which include examinations by physicians who are developmental behavioral pediatricians.
According to Swingle, a new outreach program has been created.
“We will visit and provide instruction on how to conduct developmental screening and autism-specific screening to local pediatricians, family practitioners, pediatric nurse practitioners and health departments in south Alabama and along the Gulf Coast,” Swingle said. Health care practitioners can request outreach support by calling 415-8623.
Swingle said the USA clinic has also created a mentor program for new families that have children diagnosed with autism.
For information about autism and statewide resources call Jennifer Muller, executive director with the Autism Society of Alabama, at 1-877-428-8476 or visit the Web site at www.autism-alabama.org.