The state of Michigan unveiled a plan to address the needs of residents with autism earlier this week.
The Michigan Department of Community Health released the Michigan Autism Spectrum Disorders State Plan, which calls for more early screening, better training for primary care providers, a state information clearinghouse and more, according to Michigan Radio.
For Hartland resident Jenifer Thomas, a mother whose youngest son is on the autism spectrum, news of the plan was received with both relief and some frustration.
“My gut reaction was great, but there are a lot of concerns,” Thomas said. “There’s not really a timeline specified."
When her oldest son had delayed speech, Thomas says she took her two-year-old son for evaluations and became familiar with the screening processes for autism using services through Livingston Educational Services Agency (LESA).
Although her son wasn't on the autism spectrum, Thomas credits early screening and years of services provided by LESA for her son's improvement.
Just a few years later, when her second son showed signs of delayed speech as well, Thomas says she and her husband weren’t too concerned and were prepared to hear the same diagonis as her older child.
Returning to LESA for an evaluation, doctors informed the family that their youngest son was on the autism spectrum and “that’s when the bottom dropped out,” she said.
Autism Spectrum Disorders – which include autism, Asperger syndrome, childhood disintegrative disorder, pervasive developmental disorder and Rett syndrome – are neurological impairments that cause social, communication and behavioral challenges, the Michigan Autism Program says. One in 88 children in the United States falls on the spectrum, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Thomas said that her experience with her older son helped her recognize signs in her younger son.
“I might not have known," she said. "And I don’t think my doctor would have known at such an early age - we wouldn’t have caught it.”
Thomas says that improvements such as the Michigan Autism Plan and having insurance coverage to help pay for autistic services are "great," but there is still a lot of work ahead.
“Now that insurance pays for a lot of it,” she said, “now parents are out there trying to gather these services but there’s not a lot trained professionals out there."
Doing her part of help provide information and resources, Thomas is a board member of the Boxing Autism Club of Livingston County, a support group for families of children on the spectrum.
Ten years ago, when Thomas began her search for local facilities, physicians and therapists, there were very few to choose from. Although Thomas says there aren't too many more available today, the Boxing Autism is a local group of parents and caregivers willing to help.
"It provides support and it's a starting point for families," she said.