Disabilities center wants to be ‘the go to place’ for autism
Minot State University’s North Dakota Center for Persons with Disabilities sponsored "The North Dakota Symposium on Autism," a ground-breaking symposium on the disability, March 17. If the event’s large turnout is an indicator, the topic is garnering attention.
"Autism is a very burning topic," said Bryce Fifield, executive director of NDCPD. "Children with autism present real challenges in the community. We are working with partners around the state to make this university and our center ‘the go to place’ for information about autism."
The goal of the symposium was to launch a new service, training and research program on autism at NDCPD. Speakers highlighting the event included Thomas Higbee, Ph.D., an associate professor in the Department of Special Education and Rehabilitation and director of the Autism Support Services: Education, Research and Training program at Utah State University in Logan. Another speaker was Sally Burton-Hoyle, Ed.D., an assistant professor at Eastern Michigan University, Ypsilanti. Higbee and Burton-Hoyle showcased effective early intervention and school-based models for serving children with autism.
"There are some that argue that it is not a curable disease, I disagree with that," Fifield said. "I think that while we might not actually cure them, children with autism disorders have much more potential than we give them credit for."
According to Fifield, the key to that cure could be in catching autism early. He said signs can be seen in children as early as 18 months. Children that have trouble communicating or seem to have issues with creating and holding relationships could have autism.
"Research shows that the earlier we start and the more consistent we are with our intervention, the better the success rate is and the more normal the kind of life these children and their families can lead," said Fifield.
In larger school districts there are materials and programs in place to work with autistic children, but Fifield is concerned about the smaller schools. He believes federal and state funding is adequate for now, but where the funding is being placed may need to be addressed.
He said the incident rate of autism has gone up five times in the last 20 years. If parents suspect their child is showing signs of autism, they should log on to www.ndcpd.org.