Autism: Early Intervention is Key

April 1, 2013

By Anna Varriano

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This month’s tip was written on April 2nd, World Autism Awareness Day. Every year, autism organizations around the world celebrate the day with fundraising and awareness-raising events. I would like to do my part by telling you about an amazing organization, located here in Ottawa, called QuickStart Early Intervention for Autism.

QuickStart’s mission is to see that all children have equal opportunity to develop to their full potential through early intervention.

The statistics as of March 2012 show that autism affects 1 in 88 children (1 in 54 boys, and 1 in 50 school aged children). This is a 78% increase in reported prevalence in the last 6 years…and it is expected to keep increasing.

It is widely agreed that while early intervention is key, many support services are not provided until there is an ‘official’ diagnosis.  Most children don’t get officially diagnosed with autism until they are around 4 years old – and even older for children with other ‘disorders’ on the spectrum, such as Asperger’s. Considering that many sources state that autism can be accurately identified at 24 months (or even sooner), there is a lot that needs to be done in the area of early identification and intervention.

That’s what motivated Suzanne Jacobson to start the charitable organizationQuickstart Early Intervention for Autism in early 2008. Having grandchildren of her own who have been diagnosed with autism, Suzanne quickly recognized the dire need for services to assist families as soon as they suspect that their children may have developmental issues. For Suzanne, that happened when her first grandson was 18 months old and had to wait for almost a year for an assessment and confirmation that he had autism…and another 2 years for the start of intensive intervention. Here is a short excerpt of Suzanne’s story:

“I was very concerned about the long waiting times.  Everything I read said that early intervention was key, and yet nothing was happening.  I would wake up in the middle of the night in a panic knowing time was working against us. We needed to do something now.  Our family decided to enroll him in private therapies even before he received his diagnosis.

I know that by providing early intervention for Alex we helped to give him the best possible start – an opinion that is supported by research studies around the world. We were fortunate that we could afford private therapy.  But what about the parents who can’t?  Their stress levels had to be even higher than mine.  I felt I needed to do something because every child deserves the same opportunity, whether or not their families can pay for private treatment … and so I began QuickStart.”

Since it was founded, Quickstart has made numerous contributions to assist families with early intervention, including helping to fund the ‘Getting Started Services Clinic’ (which has helped over 800 children).  The coverage area for the clinic includes Ottawa, Kanata, Renfrew, and Cornwall. From this, other clinics and programs were created, including:  Wee Start Clinic, which sees children 21 months and under who are showing signs of developmental delay; ‘ReFresh ReStart’, a respite program that offers parents of autistic children the much needed and rare opportunity to have some time alone through one and two night stays, (made possible through the generous support of local hotels); and KickStart, a new pilot program for children 30 months and under, designed to provide ongoing therapy services and parent coaching, over a period of one year, with trained professionals. QuickStart also offers free workshops to parents on various topics.

If you aren’t impressed yet with the number of incredible services offered throughQuickStart Early Intervention for Autism, here’s something else to consider – all QuickStart programs are offered at NO COST TO FAMILIES and in both English and French. This is no small feat, considering that QuickStart received NO GOVERNMENT FUNDING, and relies on the generosity of its donors. It operates solely through volunteers, which means that almost all donations go directly to supporting programs.

For more information on QuickStart, I encourage you to visit www.quickstartautism.ca, and if you or someone you know has a child (or children) with autism, please share this valuable information with them.

Every family should have the opportunity to provide their children with the best possible chance to overcome, or learn to cope with, the life-long challenges that often accompany autism. Early intervention is critical and desperately needed! I hope you will join me in helping Quickstart to continue to offer all of its amazing programs throughout our community. The best way to help is to donate, and I plan on doing that as soon as I finish writing up this tip.  I’m also honoured to be donating a half day nutrition-related workshop through QuickStart’s parent workshop program.

Note that QuickStart is a Registered Charity…and thanks to some new tax measures introduced in last month’s federal budget, it is my understanding that ‘first-time donors’ (defined as someone who hasn’t claimed a donation credit after 2007), will be entitled to a 40% federal credit for cash donations (as opposed to donations of property, or donations ‘in-kind’) of $200 or less, and a 54% federal credit for donations of over $200, up to $1,000. Apparently this is a temporary credit to encourage ‘first-time donors’, so if it applies to you, now is a great time to make a donation to Quickstart! (One of my colleagues shared this info with me just as I was writing this tip – so thank you – and you know who you are!)

In closing, I ask that you please watch this 15 minute video, My Autism and Me, that one of my clients recently shared with me (so thanks to you too – and you know who you are too!). It gives a beautiful perspective on how differently autism impacts the lives of children, and how they can embrace their differences and lead incredibly creative, inspirational, successful, and fulfilling lives when surrounded by understanding, patience, acceptance, love, and support.   Enjoy. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ejpWWP1HNGQ

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