As March is coming to an end and April is on the horizon, a couple of local clinics are looking to spend the next month raising awareness for a condition that affects one in 68 children in the United States, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
That condition is autism. Most people have heard of it, but the taffs at the Kid SpOt Center and at Growing Minds Learning Center want to make people more aware of what autism is and bring awareness to those affected by it.
Both the Kid SpOt Center and Growing Minds have locations in Campbellsville, as well as other offices around Kentucky.
Clinical Therapy Division Director/Speech Language-Pathologist Brittany Hunt at the Kid SpOt Center said their goal for Autism Awareness Month is to simply educate people more about what autism entails and provide resources for those affected.
At the Kid SpOt Center, Hunt said she estimated nearly half of the children they work with have an autism spectrum disorder.
“We do have a high prevalence of autism in Campbellsville, more so than our other clinics [located in Elizabethtown and Bowling Green],” Hunt said. “Autism is just one of many diagnoses that we provide services for.”
Katie Dihrkop, lead therapist at Growing Minds Learning Center, said autism is a growing diagnosis throughout the country.
“Autism Awareness Month is a great way to spark that interest and those thoughts about something that a lot of people are affected with and create greater awareness for the diagnosis and what it entails, as well as treatments for that diagnosis,” Dihrkop said.
“Early intervention” is a term often used when discussing autism. Early intervention involves seeking resources early or shortly after a diagnosis to ensure that children with autism are provided with the right resources to grow and learn.
Most children are not diagnosed with autism until they are two or three years old, which means early intervention is very important.
“Early intervention is so important because that is the prime time when children learn,” Hunt said. “That is when they are most apt to learn … The earlier you start, the more likely you are to see success and growth.”
Dihrkop agreed, stating that research has shown that the earlier intervention occurs, the more gains children will make.
“We encourage parents that when they are able to receive that diagnosis, to really dive in straight to effective treatments,” Dihrkop said. “That is why we call it early intervention service.”
Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) has been shown to be an effective method in treating children with autism. Both The Kid SpOt Center and Growing Minds practice ABA in their clinics.
This involves a variety of things such as sensory strategies, positive reinforcement, and verbal behavior programming, among many other practices.
Dihrkop said they also reiterate the importance of engaging children with autism outside of a clinic setting, which means through parents.
“We pride ourselves with having a lot of parent training and parent involvement,” Dihrkop said. “Parent involvement is huge. It is important that they understand the treatment plans and goals for children.”
Hunt said other points they like to bring out are some early indicators of autism in children. Among those are speech difficulties, in which Hunt said children do not speak or begin talking and then regress. Poor eye contact and lack of social interaction are other early indicators, according to Hunt.
Dihrkop said conversations between parents and pediatricians are important in the early stages of child development to discuss indicators such as these. Those conversations can lead to a referral for further testing. She also noted the importance of support groups for parents, which can be very beneficial during a time that can be overwhelming.
Hunt said the Kid SpOt Center aims to provide a “whole child approach” in which they provide speech therapy, occupational therapy, and other forms of therapy to work with children in various aspects, which helps them continue to grow and thrive.
One common misconception about autism, according to Hunt, is that autism does not fit in a one-size-fits-all approach.
“Each child that we work with is different,” Hunt said. “It’s something where it is very unique and each child is so different. What you do with one child may not work with another. We take an individualized approach with each kid.”
Dihrkop agreed, noting that autism has such a wide spectrum.
“You can have a child who has a low skill level and they may be non-verbal, and it can go to a child that may just need some social skills work,” Dihrkop said. “I think that is a common misconception. That is why treatment plans are so individualized.”
Hunt said she advises people to practice patience and understanding when it comes to autism. Whether it is parents or an average person out in the community, she said being patient and understanding is valuable.
“It’s just important to be patient and realize there are different needs,” Hunt said.
The Kid SpOt Center is planning an autism awareness event on Wednesday, April 19, at Bounce located at 195 City Park Road in Campbellsville from 6-8 p.m. This will be the fifth year they have hosted the event, and it is open to the public, especially to children and parents affected by autism.
Hunt said there will be resources available for those affected, as well as providing food, activities, games, prizes, and t-shirts. The theme for the event is Dr. Seuss.