Regardless of the reason for the stunning increase in diagnosis of autism in children today, it is a fact that more resources are needed for the education of autistic children than in past years. According to the Autism Research Institute, autism is a severe developmental disorder that begins at birth or within the first two-and-a-half years of life. The prevalence of Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs) in Waco and Central Texas presents difficult challenges for educators, parents, advocates and others working to develop and implement effective intervention programs.
Waco and the rest of the Central Texas community are doing their best to provide services which will give autistic children every opportunity to develop their social skills, cognitive skills, language and communication skills. One of the most difficult challenges for teachers and parents is managing autistic students who have behavior problems because this takes a disciplined, learned approach and it is time consuming. Two of the services in Waco which help in this area are the Autism Program at Education Service Center Region 12 (ESC Region 12) and the Baylor Autism Resource Center (Center for Autism).
ESC Region 12
The Special Education Program has an Autism Service component which addresses the needs of autistic children and their families as well as the needs of educators, advocates, and school personnel . ESC Region 12 Autism Service is a member of the Heart of Texas Autism Network where it participates collaboratively within the network to share information, ideas and resources. In addition to what it does at the local level, Autism Service staff is regularly involved in professional development and participate in various state meetings which focus on needs of children and adults with autism.
Center for Autism
Baylor’s Center for Autism opened in 2008 after receiving a grant from Waco Foundation. The Center is staffed by graduate volunteers according to Dr. Tonya Davis. Student volunteers provide a variety of services to autistic children, their families and the community at large. The two main programs for autistic students right now are the Social Skills Group, and Individual Behavior Therapy. There is also a Parent Chat group which allows parents to interact while their children are participating in programs. While much of the graduate students’ work is mandatory for classes, students unselfishly contribute many additional hours of service in the field. As one of the newest members of the Heart of Texas Autism Network, the Center for Autism has already made significant contributions to increasing awareness of autism, and disseminating information about autism research.
Making an Impact
Programs in Waco and Central Texas which are addressing the needs of children with ASDs are making an impact as they provide valuable tools and services for the children, families, service providers, and the community. Educators are relieved to have several programs which they can turn to for answers when a difficult situation arises. Parents are relieved of some of their stress due to services from the network of providers and autistic children have the opportunity to increase their chances of making progress in the classroom, in social situations and at home. As the community becomes more aware of issues and concerns related to autism, the support network will continue to grow.