FAU Autism and Related Disabilities van: Mobile van travels the area offering free testing

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla -  Early intervention is considered key to treating children with autism.  But often in low-income communities, families don't have access to an early diagnosis that can lead to getting the necessary care. Florida Atlantic University is trying to reach those families with its van that travels throughout the area.

A typical case is Kapree Kingdom. She had heard about FAU's Autism and Related Disabilities van, and decided to take her young daughter to it when it traveled to the Vickers House in West Palm Beach.

The goal of the FAU program is to reach the low-income community, which can be underserved when it comes to diagnosing autism and other afflictions.

"Their families are not necessarily educated as to what their disabilities might be, and a lot of times they're neglected or not identified and they don't get the services they need," said Ali Cunningham, the assistant director at the FAU Center for Autism and Related Disabilities.

"Can she turn the pages of a book by herself?" asks Elisa Cruz-Torres, a clinical support specialist.

Using a series of questions staffers conduct the initial screening to determine if a child is at the proper development stage.

"If you were to put a crumb or a Cheerio inside a bottle, would she turn the bottle upside down to get it out?" she asks.

The questions sound simple, but they can be revealing.

"She unlocks doors, does she ever go out of the house when she does that?" asks Cruz-Torres.

Wandering, or trying to escape, can be an  indicator of autism.

"Does she flip switches on and off?" is another question frequently asked.

They're checking the milestones of where a two-year-old like Ka'Mani should be, and the results can detect the first signs of a development problem.

"If they are identified that early they often benefit from speech therapy, behavior therapy, occupational therapy and physical therapy, and that will improve their prognosis later on as they develop," said Cunningham.

In the case of little Ka'Mani, her responses relieved her mom's concerns.

"Everything went well," said Kapree with a laugh.

For parents with autism screening questions, FAU can  provide the screening. They can be reached at 1-888-632-6395 or through their website http://www.autism.fau.edu


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