AUTISM SUPPORT: Helping Kids With Diagnosis

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Recent numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show Autism affects one in 68 kids.

Autism is a complex disorder affecting brain development and how people communicate and interact with others. April is National Autism Awareness Month.

Owen Maudlin started developing like any boy, speaking about fifty words when he was two years-old. Dad Joseph Tamburo says, "Then his words started going away. He got quiet. He started talking less."

His parents were concerned with how he was communicating and interacting with others. They took him to the Children's Developmental Center at Blank Children's Hospital expecting an Autism diagnosis. Mom Gabrielle Maudlin says, "He's like, 'you don't seem surprised at all.' I'm like, 'no, I took an online test.' I have family members. He was just really glad we came in and got help as soon as we did."

Staff at the center, which opened in 2012, suggested options for early intervention. Owen started going to Metro West Learning Center in Clive once a week for speech language therapy. And, he spends three hours a day four days a week in pre-school with the Des Moines Early Childhood Special Education program. Tamburo says, "The improvement has been amazing. Owen had no imaginative play two years ago. He had a very limited vocabulary. His vocabulary is now up to 500 words as of last week."

Metro West Learning Center owner and director Toni Merfeld says, "We were just it seemed like on the cusp ten years ago. Of course it was being talked about."

Merfeld opened the center ten years ago. It offers speech, occupational, physical and mental health therapy. And people with Autism can take part in social language groups, including a newly added adult women's group. Merfeld says, "Really meet some of those unique needs that kids bring to us, and make sure that we are attending to that and making sure the kids are successful in all environments.

As for Owen’s development, Tamburo says, "It's going to be a lot of struggle. Owen works really hard every week. There's a lot of people pulling for him. I'd like him to have a typical of life as possible, to be able to go out, have a job, live on his own."

Metro West Learning Center is having a celebration for children and families Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. The open house is from 4 to 7 p.m. each day. Food and prizes will be provided with a chance to win a Kindle Fire.

The Homestead has also expanded its services to help the Autism community around the state. The group started the Children's Autism Project about three years ago at its Altoona location. The program uses an evidence based approach called ABA, or Applied Behavior Analysis, to change behaviors. The Homestead expanded services to Clive last year. It now offers ABA in the Cedar Rapids metro and plans to open a center in the Quad Cities this July.

Click here for more information about Autism Society of Iowa.