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Supporting families affected by autism spectrum disorder during COVID-19 crisis

During the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, therapists at Easterseals Michigan provide services to children with ASD via teletherapy.

After behaviors are noticed that indicate a child may be affected by autism spectrum disorder (ASD), it can sometimes take more than a year for the child to receive a medical diagnosis. It is a multi-step examination process with a sequential series of evaluations – and each may have their own wait list.

Easterseals Michigan had been working diligently to shorten the duration of time it takes to complete examinations. However, the process came to halt for children undergoing evaluations for ASD when the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

“It is frustrating for families to have this process come to a stop, adding length to the wait for a diagnosis,” said Uriel Stephens, director of Family Services at Easterseals Michigan.

In this situation, the frustration is multifaceted – while it makes a long process even longer, a child with ASD symptoms will struggle to cope when there is lack of social interaction and interruption to routine and essential behavior management therapy. Their behavior may worsen, causing the child to feel discouraged and the parent to feel defeated.

“Families with a child who demonstrates ASD tendencies are currently facing extra challenges,” Stephens said. “We had to figure out something to do for those who rely on us for therapy and support.”

A $10,000 grant from The Children’s Foundation’s COVID-19 Emergency Relief Fund enables Easterseals Michigan clinicians to connect with families awaiting diagnosis and provide behavior strategies. Parents are trained to better manage behavior via video kits which teach them how to implement therapy practices into home-based strategies. This knowledge equips parents with the ability to think like an applied behavioral analysis therapist.

For those with an ASD diagnosis, the grant also covers costs for teletherapy where there is no reimbursement; this enables remote continuation of care for 50 children with ASD to engage in applied behavioral analysis and 65 children to engage in speech language therapy and occupational therapy.

“For some kids affected by ASD, teletherapy has been their only social connection through this,” said Stephens. “It is sweet to see how incredibly excited kids are to reconnect with their therapist.”

The ongoing pandemic presents many unique challenges, but Easterseals is determined to not allow these challenges to hinder the progress families have made – rather, this is an opportunity to implement strategies and solutions to help a child develop further.

“Thank you to The Children’s Foundation for this emergency funding,” Stephens said. “It has allowed us to make this difficult time a bit easier on families with children who rely on our services in order to thrive.”

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