by Pamela Young, Published May 18, 2010
YPSILANTI - The first of several state Senate hearings that focus on autism kicks off next week at Eastern Michigan University.
The initial hearing, chaired by state Sen. Randy Richardville (R-Monroe County), will meet Monday, May 24, 2:30-4:30 p.m. at Eastern’s Autism Collaborative Center (ACC), located in the former Fletcher school building, 1055 Cornell Rd. in Ypsilanti.
The hearings will help educate the public about the needs of families dealing with autism, and what it means financially and emotionally when seeking treatment. Insurance coverage will be one of the major issues discussed.
Pamela Lemerand, an assistant professor of health sciences and director of the center, and Bethany Gorka, a graduate student in psychology, will represent Eastern Michigan. Kelly Van Singel, from Ypsilanti will also participate. Van Singel’s two daughters, ages 8 and 5 ½, both have autism and are enrolled in Eastern’s ACC programs.
Richardville said the work group will schedule several hearings throughout the state to educate the public about the effects of autism and help identify options for potential legislation. State Sen. Tupac A. Hunter, D-Detroit, will also serve on the work group.
“We’re excited that the senators chose the Autism Collaborative Center for the first hearing,” said Lemerand. “The ACC at Eastern is a one-of-a kind program in the state, and one of the only non-medical university-based autism programs in the country with a comprehensive, interdisciplinary approach to assessment and a full range of interventions.”
The center currently provides services for more than 100 families.
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a neurobiological disorder that affects an individual’s communication skills, social interaction and behavior.
When a child is diagnosed with autism, the diagnosis affects the entire family. Finding appropriate individualized help for each member of area families was difficult until the ACC opened, Lemerand says. The center has EMU faculty and students who specialize in occupational, speech and language therapy, music therapy, nursing, psychology, social work, dietetics, special education and recreation therapy.
“While autism has many debilitating physical effects, it also creates financial difficulties for families struggling to identify resources to cover effective medical treatments,” Richardville said. “Research has shown that the earlier the treatments, the greater the impact they will have on a child.”
Current research indicates that one out of every 110 American children born today will be diagnosed with ASD. More than 1.5 million families in the U.S. are currently affected. The number of children with autism in Michigan public schools increased by more than 100 percent between 2001 and 2006 from 5,680 to 11,366