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Sat Sep 21, 2013, 01:24 PM

Ga. Autism Project Looks to Early Detection.

"I couldn't have imagined being here seven weeks ago," Dreher said. "My husband, Sean, and I have said, 'What if we had come here two years ago? Where would we be now?'"

That's the heart of a partnership between the center and the Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning. It aims to train a small group of state and contract employees to work with day care operators and pre-K providers throughout Georgia to identify the early warning signs of autism and support parents. Those involved in the effort point to research that shows that symptoms of the autism spectrum disorder, which affects some 1 in 88 children nationwide, can be detected as early as the first two years of life and that early intervention is key.

"Today, if I get a phone call and someone says they've got an 8-year-old who is unable to speak and is in need of our help, I know we can help that child. But we cannot help that child nearly as much as we could have if we got that same phone call when that child was 2," said Don Mueller, executive director of the Marcus Autism Center. "The associated disabilities of autism are not inevitable. They don't have to happen in many kids. We can intervene and change the course."

Marcus Autism Center, which operates under the umbrella of Children's Healthcare of Atlanta, is one of three institutions designated as an Autism Center of Excellence by the National Institutes of Health. The center's effort with the state Department of Early Care and Learning is part of a broader goal to enhance community outreach and build community resources for children with autism and their families. Center officials hope to eventually expand the partnership to other states and are working with federal officials to bring their work to Head Start programs nationwide.

http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2013/09/21/us/ap-us-autism-early-detection.html?hp

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