LISBON - With autism rates on the rise, the Help Me Grow staff is gearing up to assist families dealing with this syndrome in their young family members.
Six staff members from the Columbiana County Board of Developmental Disabilities' Help Me Grow Program have begun training to help recognize symptoms of autism and give the families the support they need.
The Help Me Grow staff is in a joint effort with the Autism Diagnosis Education Project (ADEP). The statewide project is being administered by the Ohio Center for Autism and Low Incidence (OCALI) in cooperation with Akron Children's Hospital's Family Child Learning Center.
Morning Journal/Deanne Johnson
Sawyer McNeeley is held by her mother while her sister, Josie McNeely, sits in the front row during a play group at Robert Bycroft School, one of several play groups offered by the Help Me Grow program around the county to all area children.
Help Me Grow manager Julie Shea said the project is aiming to increase the diagnostic capability locally, instead of children having to go miles for the evaluation.
Autism is a developmental disorder affecting a child's ability to communicate, interact and play with other children. The most recent statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention state one in 50 school-aged children have autism. The number of births in Columbiana County suggests 25 children with autism are being born here each year.
While many children are not diagnosed with autism until kindergarten, Help Me Grow staff often sees children in the first year of life, when autism already can be evident. Shea said she hopes the children who are identified earlier and are given quicker access to early intervention programs will be helped. So will their families, who often need help getting their children to connect with others and communicate.
"We are trying to put things in place to try to support families as best we can," Shea said, "because it's definitely a growing problem."
Training began in April and Shea hopes the staff is ready to diagnose autism by July 1. Last September, the staff participated in the Play and Language for Autistic Youngsters (PLAY). The project helps the home consultants with Help Me Grow to help the child through playing on the floor and train the parents to work with their own children.
Developed by Dr. Richard Solomon, home consultants work with the child and family, then videos are sent to Solomon's staff so individual suggestions can be made and the consultants can learn better ways to work with the children. Parents will learn ways to make each part of the child's day an interactive learning experience.
The ADEP program is being paid for through a $1.325 million federal grant, while the PLAY project is being paid for the Ohio's Health Transformation Innovation Fund. The program is free to families. Besides the autism programs, Help Me Grow is available for children throughout the county, providing weekly play groups in Lisbon at Robert Bycroft on Tuesday mornings, East Liverpool at Westgate Elementary on Wednesday mornings and Leetonia at the library on Thursday mornings. The play groups are for children from birth to 6 years old and are held from 10 to 11:30 a.m.
Additionally, Help Me Grow provides early intervention programs, helping children from birth to age 3 who are not reaching developmental milestones. The program also supports pregnant women and new parents providing skills and support services.
For more information about all the programs families should call Help Me Grow at 330-424-0288.