WHITE HALL — Throughout the month of April, the staff of Mon Health System encourages the public to learn more about autism, one of the fastest growing developmental disabilities in the United States. Supporting, educating and advocating for autistic individuals will make a difference in the lives of the patients the System serves.
“Autism was considered to be very rare when I started working in this field in 1985,” said Marc Ellison, Ed.D., LPC, Executive Director of the W. Va. Autism Training Center at Marshall University. “The prevalence then was estimated to be 4 to 5 per 10,000 children. Today, CDC studies show prevalence rates in 8-year-old children to be 1 in 44. As we’ve learned more about autism over the years, we’ve learned to better identify, diagnose and assess need.”
Autism, or autism spectrum disorder (ASD), refers to a broad range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech and nonverbal communication. Characteristics typically appear during the first three years of life.
Fortunately for those in West Virginia, the W. Va. Autism Training Center (WV ATC) was established in 1984 at Marshall University. The Center provides services to those with autism spectrum disorder as well as their families, educators, and others significant in their lives. Since its inception, the Center has served nearly 4,000 families and over 5,000 educators.
“There are several important considerations a family makes when a child is first diagnosed with autism, one of the most important is finding available resources,” Dr. Ellison continued. “Resources – such as skill-building therapies, speech and language training, and occupational therapy – can be challenging to access here. The Center provides several types of services statewide, and one of those is facilitating periodic cohorts for parents of newly diagnosed children. These cohorts help parents better understand autism, identify resources, and offer an opportunity to become part of a community of people who share their experiences.”
A second resource available is the Autism Society of West Virginia, a state chapter of the Autism Society of America. The state society is made up mostly of parents and caregivers and is focused on helping parents find and access services. Parents may register with the W. Va. Autism Training Center by calling (304) 696-2840. Christine Fair, President of the Autism Society of W. Va., can be reached at (304) 224-2769.
As part of educating West Virginians about ASD, the Center is providing a screening for the award-winning documentary “In A Different Key”. An extraordinary narrative history of autism: the riveting story of parents fighting for their children’s civil rights; of doctors struggling to define autism; of ingenuity, self-advocacy, and profound social change. The viewing will be on April 19 from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at the Marquee Cinema, Pullman Plaza in Huntington.
The Training Center is sponsoring a series of meetings for parents of children diagnosed with ASD. Meetings will be held virtually via Zoom from Noon to 1 PM each Wednesday beginning April 13, 2022. If you have any questions, please contact Julie O’MaIIey at (304) 696-2838 or [email protected]