A pediatric feeding disorder program at the Marcus Autism Center is currently helping kids like Brandon Dreher, who used to only eat crackers and McDonald’s fries.
Marlaina Dreher, his mother, broke into applause when she finally saw him pick up a red plastic spoon and fed himself pureed lasagna.
The program is a partnership between the center and the Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning—it aims to train a small group of state and contract employees to work with day care operators and pre-K providers throughout Georgia to identify the early warning signs of autism and support parents.
Those involved in the effort point to research that shows that symptoms of the autism spectrum disorder, which affects some 1 in 88 children nationwide, can be detected as early as the first two years of life and that early intervention is a key.
“Today, if I get a phone call and someone says they’ve got an 8-year-old who is unable to speak and is in need of our help, I know we can help that child. But we cannot help that child nearly as much as we could have if we got that same phone call when that child was 2,” said Don Mueller, executive director of the Marcus Autism Center. “The associated disabilities of autism are not inevitable. They don’t have to happen in many kids. We can intervene and change the course.”
Recently, a group of 15 state and contract employees who work with child care and pre-K providers gathered at the autism center to begin a yearlong training course. Another group began training in August. To start, each participant will identify at least two day care or pre-K programs to work with. They’ll work with teachers on how to detect red flags, share concerns with parents and develop lesson plans tailored to a child’s needs.