APIC continues mission of helping autism community during pandemic

Hear one of the biggest challenges facing the autism community with the loss of in-person access
Photo credit Getty Images

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WBEN) – The challenges of educating those with autism during the coronavirus pandemic continues, even as many elementary school students will return to the classroom in a traditional five-day schedule.

Organizations like Access to Psychiatry Through Intermediate Care, or APIC, are dedicated to helping individuals with autism and their families.

“We primarily go out to the community and work with folks in their homes and schools,” Janell Van Cleve, Clinical Director at APIC, said. “Often times, individuals in difficult cases end up at emergency rooms so we will intervene there as well. We essentially provide psychiatric case management for these cases and decide what the barriers are for them to receive the proper treatment and appropriate level of care. We work with their treatment team to make sure they get there and we can get them to thrive and not just be surviving.”

Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects around 2% of the population. People on the autism spectrum range from having difficulties with interpersonal communication to severe cognitive limitations, including a lack of verbalization. In other cases, people with autism are rigid and have repetitive behaviors.

APIC sees an average of 300 people each year.

April is Autism Awareness Month and the hope continues with organizations like APIC that autism will be recognized and treated early.

“If you think about children that you may have or children you’ve grown up around and what language development really is from one-and-a-half years of age to four, it’s huge,” Michael Cummings, Vice Chair of Psychiatry at UB and APIC Medical Director, said. “We go from a couple of words to thousands and thousands of words almost overnight. All that happens in a predictable way for most people. People with autism really struggle with language development, so early and aggressive treatment for language development changes their entire life.”

Cummings said the lack of access to in-person education may have impacted their ability to acquire things like language.

“That early intervention matters so much for the entire life of an individual on the spectrum,” he said.

He said the last year has been heartbreaking for students with autism. It’s also equally heartbreaking for parents who need no reminder that their children have autism. Instead, Cummings said they want action.

The United States spends approximately $250 billion annually on autism, compared to $160 billion for cancer and $220 billion for heart disease. Cummings said that by 2025, it may cost a trillion dollars annually to treat.
The pandemic has hampered APIC’s ability to help people on the autism spectrum at home. However, Cummings said they still meet with individuals in-person for the first visit. The follow-up meetings tend to be held virtually, though Cummings said that’s a silver lining for some, but not all people with autism, particularly those who are non-verbal and those children who won’t sit in front of a screen.

“You can’t do a really good evaluation with a severely autistic child in the other setting but face-to-face,” Cummings said.

Van Cleve suggests for families to speak with their pediatrician if they are worried about their child’s behavior, specifically if they struggle with eye contact or show anxiety.

“I know in many cases where parents were told they would go out of it because it’s a phase,” Van Cleve said. “Certainly you could always reach out to your local school district and ask them to intervene. If you need an evaluation at an early age, I know a lot of child care providers will bring things to your attention.”

According to Autism Speaks, boys are more than four times more likely to be diagnosed with autism than girls. Most children were still being diagnosed after age 4, though autism can be reliably diagnosed as early as age 2.

Learn more about APIC by clicking here.

Featured Image Photo Credit: Getty Images