Easterseals Midwest works to increase acceptance and education with autism

Caleb Woods Ecruhwpiw7c Unsplash

Photo by Caleb Woods on Unsplash

1 in 54 children in the U.S. is diagnosed with autism. Easterseals Midwestan organization dedicated to helping individuals with disabilities and their families—assists and advocates for autistic people. The organization could not host regular events due to COVID-19. Instead, they centered their time on the creation and continuance of programs for autistic people and their families. 

They currently serve over 5,000 people with disabilities—empowering them throughout their everyday lives and advocating for them. Casey Melancon, director of autism and clinical services, says she and her team serve upwards of 165 people right now. 

The organization offers a wide range of family support and training, consultation, and therapy services. One of which is the Parent Training Program. Through the program, the team at Easterseals coaches parents on how to respond to and appropriately care for their autistic children. They do so in a natural environment, typically within the home, to better understand the exact situation of the families. 

“Our Parent Training Program is all based on applied behavior analysis principles, so it is considered evidence-based,” says Melancon. “A lot of our services focus around positive reinforcement, which is the ABA model. We’re definitely teaching them positive reinforcement, we’re teaching them just very specific techniques on how to respond to a behavioral concern.”

Easterseals also offers direct Applied Behavior Analysis, or ABA, services. ABA therapy can occur in the clinic, home, or community, and uses a methodology that addresses behavioral, communication, and social concerns. The therapist helps establish routines, increases social and leisure skills, and teaches emotional regulation and coping strategies. They also offer occupational and physical therapy. 

As of October 1 of last year, Easterseals Midwest added the Family Navigation Program with support from the Abbott Fund. Through the program, Easterseals aims to better serve Black autistic people, who have historically been underprovided for in the field. Studies have found that Black children are typically diagnosed with autism six months later than their white peers. Through the Family Navigation Program, Easterseals hopes to change that. 

Through the program, family navigators with the organization provide a number of services. They include: screening children to see if a diagnosis is needed, diagnosing or referring to a doctor with autism experience, developing a plan for the child, identifying support services and resources in the community, integrating the children into Easterseals services, and maintaining a relationship with the family throughout the process.  

“Sometimes you have people that already have the diagnosis, so they contact us and say, ‘My child’s been diagnosed with autism, we need help. I don’t know what to do.’ This is like it’s kind of like a foreign language to them if they’re not familiar with [autism],” Melancon says. “We will help them find different providers based on their needs. Of course, we want to try to serve them as well, but sometimes they’re looking for service that we may not even offer, or maybe we have a waiting list and another agency doesn’t. We can help them, essentially just navigate the autism world.”

Ultimately Melancon hopes that people begin better educating themselves on autism and that the stigma surrounding autistic people finally ends. She wants people to be able to identify symptoms of autism so they can get diagnosed, and get help, sooner. Symptoms of autism in children may include: not responding when their name is called, seeming distant or tuning people out, repetitive behaviors, and sensory and social concerns. 

Melancon advises parents or loved ones who suspect their child may be autistic to contact their physician for a diagnosis, or to reach out to an organization like Easterseals. 

“A lot of times families automatically think of like one entity that does [diagnostic exams],” says Melancon. “So their waiting list might be 9-12 months or whatever that looks like. But we have other places that do it as well. They can contact us, we would love to help them.”

The full list of services that Easterseals Midwest offers includes the Parent Education and Training Program, Family Navigation, PEERS Social Skills groups, Sibshops (sibling support groups), group workshops, observations, IEP supports, ABA consultations and therapy, occupational therapy, and physical therapy. 

To get started with Easterseals’ autism services, email Melancon at casey.melancon@esmw.org, or call at 816-891-2930.

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