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EMU Autism Center Gets $500k State Telehealth Grant

Children with autism often have a difficult time being properly diagnosed or receiving therapy. Those problems are compounded for disadvantaged families or families living in rural areas, such as Michigan's Upper Peninsula.

The Autism Collaborative Center at Eastern Michigan University soon will be able to bridge that gap thanks to a $500,000 state grant that will allow the staff to use the latest technology -- a live video stream -- to evaluate and treat clients.

A telehealth model program allows health care professionals to expand care to rural or disadvantaged families while reducing travel time and expenses.

Autism is a complex and costly disorder that results in significant difficulties in communication, socialization, learning and behavior. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports autism cases in Michigan have skyrocketed from 4,700 in 2002 to 16,000 in 2010. Treatment for children and young adults with autism requires intensive individualized intervention at an average cost of $50,000 per year.

"Eastern Michigan University is grateful to the Michigan legislature and the governor's administration for recognizing the valuable work being done at Eastern's Autism Collaborative Center," said Susan Martin, EMU president. "I especially would like to acknowledge the leadership of Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville, Chairman (Senate Appropriations Committee) Roger Kahn and Lt. Governor Brian Calley for being advocates for this appropriation. This grant will allow our center's staff to make their expertise available to more Michigan families."

Said Ricahrdville (R-Monroe): "EMU's Autism Collaborative Center is an invaluable resource to countless families dealing with autism throughout southeast Michigan. We determined this was an appropriate avenue to give their telehealth program vital support to expand access to the ACC programs to even more families around the region."

There are numerous rural communities in Michigan where there is no money or available transportation for consultations, diagnosis or parent support, said Pamela Lemerand, ACC director and professor of occupational therapy. In addition, health care professionals dealing with autism may not have the availability to increase their skills through professional development opportunities.

"The grant will allow our staff to develop innovative programs such as using the Web for support groups for adults with autism, or lending computers, cameras or flip cams to families," said Lemerand. "They can tape their child or family member demonstrating some of the difficulties the person is having at home or in the community, then return the equipment to the center. Then staff can consult with the family about possible interventions. Every county has an extension office and an intermediate school district. We may be able to collaborate with them to serve clients at those sites, even be able to set up a little TV studio to conduct group sessions."

Eastern's center, which is non-profit, offers a team of professionals and well-trained students from various departments and services ranging from music therapy and occupational therapy to speech therapy and dietetics. Sibling support groups and summer camps are also available. With telehealth, these professionals can reach out to others who normally can't take advantage of the center's services.

"Telehealth models are widely used in the health and education fields," Lemerand said.  "The need for a cost-effective program in Michigan, given the unemployment rate and economic downturn, is clear. This initiative can be a national model of innovative practices."

For more information, call the Autism Collaboration Center at (734) 485-2892.

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