Rise in autism increases need for speech and behavioral therapyDecember 8, 2014
(Dothan, AL) When Angie Marshall started her business, she set out on a mission to help children in the same way her own son had been helped with auditory therapy.
The Progress Center, which opened in 2005 in Ashford, provides auditory, speech and behavioral therapy for children in need of help in these areas.
Many of the patients seen in Marshall’s and other similar therapy centers have been diagnosed with autism.
Marshall said businesses like hers, which has since moved to Dothan, have seen an increase in attendance because autism has become more prevalent and children are in need of the specialized kind of therapy.
Dianne Steensland, a speech pathologist at Speech Therapy and Associates agreed, saying cases of autism and the need for speech and behavioral therapy have increased, but pediatric physicians have been able diagnose earlier, which has helped in terms of therapy treatments.
“Most of us (therapy centers) have a waiting list now,” she said.
Physicians are starting to evaluate children for autism as early as 12 months of age.
“Pediatricians have been instrumental at identifying them young,” Steensland said, adding the earlier a child can be diagnosed, the earlier a child can begin therapy. “The best thing a parent can do is get them into therapy as soon as they can.”
Marshall said many of the children have sensory issues, which includes sensitivity to loud noises, rough textures and a need to stay in constant motion.
The Progress Center, she said, does not only specialize in therapy services for those with autism, but also for any child with a speech or auditory impairment. It’s all about seeing a child meet their full potential.
“Being a parent of an autistic child, you begin to realize that your child may not have as many choices as other children. My goal is to help any child that we can to have as many choices in life that that child can possibly have, whether it’s the school they want to go to, where they want to live, what type of family they want,” Marshall said. “We feel like one day at a time, we’re increasing choices for children … For me it’s being able to help a child and a family work together to maximize that child’s potential.”
Through consistent therapy, Steensland said many children are able to better assimilate into society.
Otherwise, she said, the older a child is before beginning therapy, the harder it is to break formed patterns in their behavior.
Marshall said a majority of students at The Progress Center are between the ages of 3 and 15 years old.
Marshall and Steensland said many of their patients are referred from Fort Rucker.
That’s one of the reasons Marshall said she decided to move her business to Dothan, to ease the commute for the Fort Rucker families they serve.
“We are seeing, and who knows why, but we do a lot of Tricare work for Fort Rucker. The Army’s increase (in autism diagnoses) is just astronomical,” Steensland said. “There is a higher percentage in those that are born to service families than the general public and we don’t know why.”
According to the Autism Research Institute, citing a parent’s public information request, one in 88 active-duty military children have been diagnosed with autism, but many have disputed these numbers as they only reflect those enrolled in the military insurance company Tricare and does not include dependents of retirees.
The Center for Disease Control’s most current figures on diagnoses for autism in the United States are one in 68 children.
In 2000, the CDC released figures indicating one in 150 as being diagnosed on the autism spectrum.
These significant jumps have made autism the fastest growing developmental disability.
Steensland said research into autism is ongoing to find why there has been such an increase in diagnoses in the general public, as well as the military.
In the meantime, therapy centers continue to offer treatments to help children improve their communication and behavioral skills.
Steensland, who has been in the speech pathology business for 40 years, said she’s seen a lot of changes in the industry over the years relating to the increase in diagnoses and the development of better treatments.
She said she often encourages young people to go into speech pathology as a career, because as long as the diagnoses of autism increase, so will the need for professionals providing treatment.