If you do the math —
the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 1 in 68 American children have been identified with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) —
more than 8500 children in Southern Nevada are now living with autism.
That’s a staggering number when you consider only a handful of agencies are providing care in Las Vegas for a complex developmental disability which typically appears during early childhood and affects a person’s ability to communicate and interact with others.
Currently, UNLV Medicine’s Ackerman Center for Autism is the only agency in the state offering a multi-disciplinary approach to treating autism —
from children as young as 12 months old receiving their initial diagnosis, all the way to group therapy for teenagers and young adults.
Behaviors associated with autism —
they include: poor motor skills and sensory sensitivities; delayed learning of language; difficulty making eye contact or holding a conversation; and challenges with reasoning and planning —
often require years of therapy to help mitigate.
Since it opened in October of 2016, the Ackerman Center has been a godsend for parents who suspect their child needs help. Unfortunately, the 35 person staff is burdened by the weight of a 3200 person waiting list. On a daily basis reception personnel hear heartbreaking stories from parents who call hoping to have their child seen by a professional. —
it’s difficult to tell them they have to wait. They’re given a list of the other local providers and encouraged to contact them —
until a spot becomes available at Ackerman.
But there is encouraging news. Ackerman is expanding. The center recently hired another clinical neuropsychologist, and thanks to the Grant A Gift Autism Foundation, the center’s fundraising arm, “Suite F” is now open. That means an additional 2,250 square feet is available for therapy-related activities.
A ribbon cutting for "Suite F" was held July 26th. It was attended by clients, parents, and local dignitaries, including Clark County Commissioner Lawrence Weekly and Mark Doubrava, a member of the Nevada Board of Regents.
Grant a Gift CEO Terri Janison is thrilled by the generosity of donors who stepped up with monetary donations and in kind goods and services. "I’m very excited about this. The opportunity for more children to be seen helps us meet our goal and work towards our mission."
Grant a Gift is also in the midst of an important fundraising campaign. They are hoping to generate $5 million dollars that can be used to hire additional speech and behavioral therapists who can make a dent in the waiting list. If you would like to help, donations can be made at:
Autism is expensive for both the client’s families and the providers. Treatment can average $60,000 a year, and insurance for treatment of autistic children typically only covers 30-40% of the cost. Properly diagnosing autism takes time. Since there is no medical test, center director Dr. Julie Beasley typically spends 5-10 hours with each new patient. Each week Beasley and Dr. Mario Gaspar de Alba, a board certified Developmental-Behavioral Pediatrician, deliver the news to between five and ten new families that their child has a life-long condition that requires additional love, support and therapy. According to Beasley, “We will need everyone working on increasing funding, training, and advocacy for children and families with disabilities.”
Shortening the patient waiting list is a top priority, but it’s not going to be easy. According to Ackerman clinic manager Cathleen Danheiser, “If a client is receiving individual daily therapy, that can be 20 hours a week. One full-time (40 hour) therapist can only handle two of those types of clients a week.” When it comes to autism treatment, there are no shortcuts.
It’s easy see the long waiting list and lack of providers as insurmountable. But consider the progress made in the 22 months the Ackerman Center has been in operation. More than 3,785 individuals and families with neurodevelopmental disorders have been served. Staff has performed more than 14,000 diagnostic and intervention sessions. It’s why the Ackerman Center for Autism and its compassionate staff has a growing legion of supporters who believe in the mission that’s being carried out, day by day, one client at a time.
Local businesses that helped Grant a Gift open “Suite F” with in kind products and services: