At the Southwest Autism Research & Resource Center, Dr. Amy Kenzer met with an inaudible patient and concerned parents.
“Parents have visions and expectations for how their child’s life is going to be, and an early autism diagnosis can affect that,” said SARRC’s Vice President of Clinical Services. “This patient had a really difficult time using language so he would make a lot of loud sounds to get your attention. He was trying to indicate he had something to say but was not forming words. That was a really critical aspect in his treatment and we really spent time breaking words down.”
Bit by bit after the intervention process began, Dr. Kenzer and her team noticed results.
“Over days, and weeks, and finally you get those words that you can actually understand,” Dr. Kenzer said. “To be able to give him the ability to communicate and the power to speak fluently is amazing. For me, it’s why I do this job.”
When Dr. Kenzer’s young patient learned and formed sentences for the first time, his parents were overflowed with joy. This case was one of many where SARRC’s advanced research and new treatment methods have improved the life of a child diagnosed with autism.
April is Autism Awareness Month and a Fiesta Bowl Charities grant for $15,000 in 2017 helps SARRC raise awareness thorough the JumpStart program. This program provides state-of-the-art information, support, and training for parents of children up to age 6 who are diagnosed with or are at risk for autism.
Parents receive information on the most critical topics for families of newly diagnosed children and get first-hand instructions on how to navigate through different services such as government funding and education.
Since SARRC opened in 1997, treatment for autism has evolved. The doctors at SARRC are applying the most advanced evidence-based treatment to the disease.
“We’ve had this new research for only a few years. It really demonstrated that applied behavior analysis and evidence-based treatment for autism is beneficial. Every individual has a different case of autism so working with them one on one has had a tremendous impact on development,” Dr. Kenzer said. “We use iPads and video recordings to track behavioral patterns and we’ve made phenomenal progress in diagnosis and early identification.”
These new methods of treatment require constant monitoring of interactions and behaviors for analysis. Clinicians at SARRC are also using a different style of teaching that is new in the field of autism.
“A lot of the early intervention work in the field of autism was very sterile and instructor lead. It required a lot of repetition over time and what we learned is the more naturalistic we can make our intervention the better the outcome we can get.” Dr. Kenzer said. “Our clinicians are really going all around the valley into family homes and into classrooms and into after-school activities and sports and providing one-on-one interventions to support kids.”
SARRC has buildings spread across the Valley of the Sun with three campuses. People all ages diagnosed with autism can receive a lifetime of support through SARRC’s educational programs and employment services.
“We’re educating our clients to positively impact the community and we have businesses that are going to be in a position to support people with autism,” Dr. Kenzer said.
During Autism Awareness Month, SARRC hosts fundraisers all over Arizona to raise awareness. All the funds are donated to their autism programs, services, and research.
“This is an area where there is a lot of fear and concern and this is a diagnosis that certainly warrants attention and treatment but with the right treatment, there is hope. That development is discovering that there is so much that is possible for an individual with autism as long as we provide that support,” Dr. Kenzer said. “Autism Awareness is about getting that message out.”
In 2018, the CDC reported that one in 59 children have been identified as having autism in the U.S. which represents a 15 percent increase from previous estimates.
“Even though we’ve made significant strides we’re still continuing to refine and advance our treatment all based on evidence-based knowledge,” Dr. Kenzer said. “We have to do work in really addressing the symptoms of autism. Our ultimate vision is that people with autism are meaningfully integrated into the community.”