Autism services available at Wesley Spectrum’s South Fayette location
The sheer numbers have a lot to say about the growing prevalence of autism spectrum disorder in the United States.
Facts about autism
• The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates autism’s prevalence as 1 in 68 children in the United States. This includes 1 in 42 boys and 1 in 189 girls.
• An estimated 50,000 teens with autism become adults, and lose school-based autism services, each year.
• About one-third of people with autism remain nonverbal.
• About one-third of people with autism have an intellectual disability.
• Certain medical and mental health issues frequently accompany autism, including include gastrointestinal disorders, seizures, sleep disturbances, attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder, anxiety and phobias.
Source: Autism Speaks
“When you have one out of every 68 kids, the numbers are almost epidemic,” Doug Muetzel, chief executive officer of Wesley Spectrum, said. “They really are. That makes the challenges for the families so significant.”
His organization, a nonprofit provider of transformational support for children and families, is offering a new program at its South Fayette Township location: WS CARES, which stands for connections, assessments, resources, education and support.
“With increased incidence of autism, you can imagine that some resources that are currently available run very thin,” Muetzel said. “So we thought that a regional availability of a diagnostic and assessment-type service would really meet a need.”
As it stands, the number of children to be screened for autism is so high that it can take six months or more to get a diagnosis anywhere in the Pittsburgh area. Muetzel said that the goal of WS CARES is to secure a complete evaluation within three visits and to provide answers for those who have concerns about autism.
“For a service like this, there are a couple of key pieces: first, the family’s recognition that there is an issue, and with that comes lots of resistance, lots of concern, lots of emotion, lots of not knowing what might unfold,” he said. “It’s very, very difficult for families.”
The “spectrum” refers to the wide range of symptoms, skills and levels of disability with regard to autism, which is characterized by difficulty in communicating and forming relationships with other people.
“Typically, a parent might view that there are some developmental challenges going on with the child,” Muetzel explained, referencing signals such as difficulty in developing language and social skills.
Children with autism often become preoccupied easily.
“A lot of little kids obviously fixate and find certain toys very, very pleasing,” Muetzel said. “But there seems to be a more consistent pattern of obsessive behavior on a given thing.”
The CARES team consists of a navigator, who provides support and education for parents and links children to appropriate services; a nurse practitioner, who complete a thorough medical and developmental assessment; neuropsychologist, licensed to evaluate behavioral and emotional symptoms.; and psych tech, a professional who will complete evidence based specialized testing and assessment.
“From there, we want to really be able to walk the family through all the challenges and intricacies of services,” Muetzel explained. “Many times, the diagnosis represents trauma to the family, and this service is designed to be extremely sensitive and supportive.”
For more information, visit www.wesleyspectrum.org/cares-program.