April is 2016 National Autism Awareness Month sponsored by the Autism Society. The Autism Society launched a nationwide effort in 1965 to promote autism awareness, inclusion and self-determination for all, and assure that each person with ASD is provided the opportunity to achieve the highest possible quality of life. The Autism Society encourages us to: Put on the Puzzle! The Autism Awareness Puzzle Ribbon is the most recognized symbol of the autism community in the world.
Capgemini’s AbiliNet Employee Resource Group joins the Autism Society in celebration of 2016 National Autism Awareness Month! National Autism Awareness Month represents an excellent opportunity for Capgemini Employees and families to promote autism awareness, autism acceptance and to draw attention to the tens of thousands facing an autism diagnosis each year.
AbiliNet ‘s mission is to provide a network of support for employees with special needs, employees supporting family members who are differently-abled, and employees supporting aging parents with special needs. This year, AbiliNet will host webinars to educate employees on issues impacting those with special needs, along with supporting the Special Olympics organization
I was honored to recently interview Stacy Leyk-Dakshindas (Certificate of Clinical Competence-Speech Language Pathology, Owner) to gain greater insight as to why National Autism Awareness Month is so important. Stacy earned a Master of Arts Degree in Speech-Language Pathology at the University of Colorado-Boulder and a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Communication Disorders from the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point. She is licensed through the State of Texas and is certified by the American-Speech-Language-Hearing Association. Her special areas of interest include treatment of apraxia of speech, auditory processing, language delay, and voice disorders.
YNH: Please share information about your practice, and your work with families impacted by Autism.
SLD: I opened The Speech and Learning Center in 2005 with a friend. We are located in Missouri City, Texas. We chose this location because there were limited providers at that time. Our first goal was to provide a comfortable and trusting environment for patients and their families to receive quality speech and language therapy services. Our second goal was to provide a positive work environment for our employees. We felt that providing a positive work environment encourages employees to do their best work and encourages them to stay at The Speech and Learning Center.
During the 11 years we have been opened, approximately 50% of the services we have provided are to children who are on the Autism Spectrum. Each family and child is different and has different needs. We set individual goals for each child that will be most functional for his/her family. It is very important to emphasize that every child/family deserves goals and recommendations based on his/her needs and not based on “what is typical.”
Because one of the primary struggles for children in the Autism Spectrum is the inability to communicate, a speech-language pathologist plays an integral role in improving a child’s functioning. Speech pathologists make goals for receptive, expressive, and social communication. This includes anything from increasing their vocabulary, teaching them to use words to express their needs, using eye contact, following directions, and a vast other communication skills.
Because children who are in the Autism Spectrum often require occupational therapy services for sensory processing difficulties and fine motor skills, we have just added occupational therapy to our services. Use of these services often improves focus and attention, interaction with peers, and handwriting (when age-appropriate).
YNH: Why is National Autism Awareness Month important?
SLD: National Autism Awareness month is very important because early intervention is key in assisting children in becoming independent, functional individuals. The more families and the community know about Autism, the more we can work together to help these children and their families. It is never too late to receive intervention, however, the sooner the intervention the better. We work with children as young as 18 months of age.
National Autism Awareness month is also important because it provides employers information they need to understand the importance of providing insurance benefits to cover services for children on the Autism Spectrum as well as flexible schedules for parents of children with special needs. I have worked with children on the Autism Spectrum for over 15 years and I have been amazed by the progress children make who receive intense intervention. I cannot tell you the number of times in my career that children have not received the intervention they need because their employer would not let them take their child to therapy or because the copay was so high that the parent could not afford it.
YNH: What do you do/what does your practice do to promote greater awareness about autism?
SLD: Our facility provides education on Autism by educating the family members. When we work with children and their families, the parents have often just learned that their child has Autism. It is crucial to educate the families on all the resources and tools they have available to them to help their child. Families often feel helpless when receiving this diagnosis and we have the opportunity to provide hope for them. The Speech and Learning Center is always available to answer questions any parent may have about communication, whether it’s related to Autism or typical development. We LOVE what we do and strive to provide the best treatment we can to help both the child and his/her family.
One of the most fulfilling feelings we have at SLC (The Speech and Learning Center) is working with a child who initially has no form of communication (e.g. cannot gesture or verbalize to communicate basic wants and needs such as expressing feelings or telling the parent/teacher what they what they need) to being able to communicate without assistance. This can take years but it is often a reasonable goal that is amazing to witness and be a part of.
YNH: How do you suggest that we encourage employees, allies, and friends to become partners in the movement toward acceptance and appreciation of autism?
SLD: The best way to support employees is to provide insurance benefits that allow unlimited speech, occupational, and physical therapy as requested by the pediatrician and experts in the various fields. As friends and co-workers, it is important to understand that caring for a child with any special needs is a full time job. These children often require multiple medical appointments every week to assist in meeting their max potential. The typical parent can become overwhelmed just by every day activities, but imagine if your child required speech therapy 2-3 times a week, occupational therapy 2-3 time a week and possibly physical therapy.
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