Under the direction of Alabama Department of Mental Health (ADMH), as lead agency of the Alabama Interagency Autism Coordinating Council (AIACC), Auburn University has been named as one of three agencies in the state’s Regional Autism Network. The Network officially launched on October 1, 2016. The Auburn Network, directed by Dr. Doris Hill, will be housed in the College of Education’s Regional Inservice Center. In addition to Auburn, the other Networks include the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) and the University of South Alabama in Mobile. All three institutions have long histories of working with people with disabilities, including autism. There is a plan for the University of Alabama (UA) and the University of Alabama at Huntsville (UAH) to join the Network in the near future.
“We have a very specific charge from the Alabama Legislature in terms of what the Network should do,” Hill said. “The most important of these is to connect families to services in state and local agencies and school districts. Although the Network itself will not provide direct services to individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), we will provide individual and direct family assistance, technical support and consultation, professional training and public education programs to increase awareness about autism and autism-related disabilities.”
According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (5th Edition) and Autism Speaks, ASD is a developmental disability that is characterized by behavioral challenges, deficits in socialization and communication, and a restricted range of activities and interests. The level of impairment varies greatly from individual to individual, as does the response to intervention. According to the Centers for Disease Control, around 1 percent of the world’s population has an autism diagnosis, and the same report found that an estimated 1 in 68 children in the United States is identified with ASD. Boys are 5 times more likely to be diagnosed than girls, with ASD affecting 1 in 42 boys and 1 in 189 girls. The number of individuals diagnosed with ASD in the United States has increased by nearly 120 percent since 2000, making it the fastest-growing developmental disability and an urgent public health care need. This increase may also be attributed to the broadening of the diagnostic characteristics of ASD as well as broadened public awareness.
“The Legislature provided us with initial funding of $75,000 to begin this Network,” Hill said. “Our Network is the largest of the three and will serve 21 counties, including the counties of Autauga, Barbour, Bullock, Butler, Chambers, Coffee, Covington, Crenshaw, Dale, Dallas, Elmore, Geneva, Henry, Houston, Lee, Lowndes, Macon, Montgomery, Pike, Russell, and Wilcox. We have already conducted regional assessments to gather data and information to gain a good understanding of the resources, strengths, and needs of our area. These assessments were also conducted to develop community and regional relationships, which will further nurture the statewide system of care for individuals impacted by ASD.”
Hill emphasized that Auburn has several built-in assets to support such a Network, perhaps none more important than being housed in the East Alabama Regional Inservice Center on campus, which is providing space, staff, faculty time, and other infrastructure to make the Regional Network a reality.
Dr. Hill can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 334-844-2004.