For years, parents have known that when their child reaches the age of two, their pediatrician will begin asking serious questions about his development. Does he use two-word phrases? Does he respond to his own name? Does he play well with others? These seemingly simple questions help identify possible symptoms of Autism Spectrum Disorders, a range of neurodevelopment disorders. These inquires are a vital effort made by doctors nationwide, as 1 in 110 children across the country is affected by autism and related disorders, with 1 in 98 children being affected in Georgia.
However, for the dedicated staff at the Marcus Autism Center, the largest and most comprehensive center in the Southeast, waiting until a child turns two years old is just too long to wait. That’s why the Atlanta-based non-profit organization, which provides treatment for children with autism and related disorders, is resolutely leading the charge in advancing scientific knowledge on the social mind, social brain and the genetic and neurobiological underpinnings of social development.
“The causes of autism are by and large prenatal, but the syndrome is instantiated in the first two years or so of life. There is a time for intervention in which we believe one can alter the very course of the disorder. That is one of our major areas of activity—to create the tools to identify autism as early in life as possible so that one can interfere with the development of the disorder,” explains Ami Klin, PhD, director of the Marcus Autism Center, which is now a wholly-owned subsidiary of Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. “One of our main research goals is to transform Atlanta into the nation’s capital for early diagnosis and intervention. Autism is a lifelong disorder. Early diagnosis—we are focusing on the first year of life—makes early intervention possible, which has been shown to significantly attenuate, and maybe in some cases, prevent autism from developing.”
Of course, while research aimed at achieving major breakthroughs in the fight against autism is an important focus for the Center, it is just one aspect of the incredible work that the organization does every day to support children with autism and their families. Providing diagnostic and treatment services for the entire spectrum of autism-related disabilities, the center works with every patient on an individual basis to address his particular issues.
Today, more than 4,000 children each year are successfully treated by Marcus’ staff of highly trained pediatric professionals, who are supported by research grants from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
“The staff at Marcus is united and energized by a common mission: to offer the best science of clinical care in order to address the needs of children with autism and their families, one at a time.” Klin says, adding that staff members work closely with a child’s family, school system and surrounding community to evaluate and treat him effectively while helping him achieve his potential for growth. What’s more, the staff also collaborates with experts at sister organizations like the Emory University School of Medicine and the Emory Autism Center, the CDC, the Georgia Institute of Technology and the Atlanta Autism Consortium to further the efforts of the autism community.
“We are at a critical crossroads in our field. We have the knowledge and the tools to radically alter the natural course of autism in children, bringing about changes in their lives that will have beneficial and lifetime consequences,” Klin concludes. “The Marcus Autism Center is at the forefront of an effort to make this knowledge and tools work for the community at large. The confluence of commitments and resources is unique, and we cannot squander this moment.”
For more information, visit www.marcus.org.