by Pamela Young, Published May 14, 2013
YPSILANTI – Children with autism often have a difficult time being properly diagnosed or receiving crucial individualized therapy that they need. Those problems are compounded for families who can't access professional therapy because they live in underserved areas or are disadvantaged.
New technology at Eastern Michigan University is now changing all that. Telehealth, a live stream video program at EMU's Autism Collaborative Center (ACC), can bring needed services to Michigan families and professional development for health care specialists wherever they live in the state.
The program debuted at the center May 10 during a morning event attended by Michigan's Lt. Gov. Brian Calley, State Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville (R-Monroe), members of the EMU Board of Regents, EMU President Susan Martin and Executive Vice President and Provost Kim Schatzel.
"The advancement of education and clinical therapy working together will take the lid off the potential for children with autism," said Richardville, who was a driving force in getting insurers in Michigan to cover treatment for autism. "As there is no real existing framework in Michigan to connect autism treatment services together, with this technology, more families will have better access to treatment thanks to the new Telehealth program."
Eastern Michigan is taking a leadership role in making Michigan healthier, he added, noting that the work done here will make a difference 50 years from now.
"I'm very proud to support this program with state resources as it will bring services to areas of our state that today go without," said Calley. "Washtenaw County's Senators Rebekah Warren and Randy Richardville made this happen. It will make a real difference."
James Murray, AT&T Michigan president, took the opportunity to present a $25,000 donation to allow the ACC to expand services offered to Michigan families. AT&T was honored at the event.
Autism is a complex and costly disorder that affects communication, socialization, learning and behavior. Approximately 15,000 children and young adults in Michigan have a form of autism, according to the Autism Alliance of Michigan.
The ACC specializes in a collaborative approach, offering services ranging from speech therapy to nutrition to music therapy. EMU students in the university's special education program are also trained to work at the ACC.
"This live stream video is huge for both the state and for our students," said Jon Margerum-Leys, associate dean of EMU's College of Education, who noted that there are three main areas where the Telehealth program can make a difference.
"First is the community outreach to the underserved anywhere in the state," Margerum-Leys said. "Treatment will then be available to young children through adults."
Second, Telehealth has the ability to connect professionals on a one-to-one basis.
Finally, observation areas allow staff members to record sessions, with permission, that can help other health care professionals with professional development and for student learning.
"Eastern's program is one of the few in the state to have a multi-disciplinary program, and we try to serve whoever needs these services," said Margerum-Leys. "Our clients are diverse ranging from the youngest who is 18 months old to a client who is in his late 50s. This program supports them as they get older."
The University also offers a college support program for students on the autism spectrum. It is one of only a dozen in the country that offers additional services a student might need while attending school. Currently, there are 12 college students with autism from all over the country at Eastern Michigan.
The officials toured the ACC facility and watched a demonstration of the video's capabilities by communicating with students in Clare, Mich., 125 miles north of Ypsilanti. As the children marched around the room they waved to the guests in the Autism center, who then waved back. There also was a music therapy demonstration using a piano and drums, and a live video meeting with a family in Petoskey who called in for a consultation about potty training.
Kelly and Steve VanSingel, of Saline, Mich., have two daughters with autism, Magdalyn, 11; and Gillian, 7. The family has been using the ACC's services since it first opened in 2009. Prior to the ACC's opening, the VanSingels were forced to drive to Oakland County for their oldest daughter's therapy.
"There is a need for a community center - a comfortable and safe place for parents and children, and one where their children will be treated over a lifetime," said Kelly VanSingel. "The Autism Collaborative Center is an amazing accomplishment."