From left, Michelle Parris and her 10-yr. old son, Miles, who has autism, Rev. Anthony Hudson, Sr. Rev. Anthony Evans, Amy Daniels, Cathy Rice
Autism Speaks and the National Black Church Initiative launched a campaign to reduce the average age of autism diagnosis and increase access to quality early intervention in African American communities. In its pilot phase, the collaboration will involve 150 Atlanta-area churches in the Autism Speaks Early Access to Care initiative.
A press conference was held Friday at the Wheat Street Baptist to mark the official launch of the program.
Outreach through faith-based organizations is an important part of ensuring that underserved communities understand the importance of early detection, says Amy Daniels, Ph.D., Autism Speaks assistant director of public health research. The congregations’ outreach will increase community awareness of autism’s early signs as well as freely available resources and services.
“Studies clearly demonstrate that signs of autism can emerge as early as 6 to 12 months, and we have effective tools to screen children as early as one year,” Dr. Daniels says. “Yet the average age of diagnosis in the United States remains close to five years, even later in African American communities.”
Early detection is critical for maximizing the benefits of early intervention. Studies suggest that 20 to 50 percent of children who receive appropriate early therapy before age 5 are able to participate in mainstream schooling.
Autism Speaks will provide materials to help families recognize developmental milestones and possible signs of autism. Autism Speaks materials also provide guidance on how to broach concerns with healthcare providers and how to find free evaluation and early intervention services. Much of this information is available on the Autism Speaks website.
“NBCI is honored to work with Autism Speaks on this critical health issue, which hits close to home for the African American community. Racial disparities in early detection and access to care and diagnostic information are a real concern for the black church, and NBCI pledges to serve as a tireless advocate and community leader to raise awareness on these issues,” said Rev. Anthony Evans, President of the National Black Church Initiative. “We look forward to working with the experts at Autism Speaks and our Atlanta member churches in the coming weeks and months for the sake of our children’s well-being.”
Following the pilot phase in Atlanta, Autism Speaks and NBCI will assess their results before expanding the initiative to other regions.
“We continue to make significant progress in autism research,” says Autism Speaks Chief Science Officer Robert H. Ring, Ph.D. "It is critically important to put science into action, to have the research we support work for the community and make a real difference in people's lives. We hope to make a significant difference by substantially lowering the age of diagnosis for children at risk."
*Video of today's Joint Press Conference with Autism Speaks and National Black Church Initiative in Atlanta, Georgia.*
In parallel efforts, Autism Speaks and the Ad Council recently launched the “Maybe” campaign. This series of autism-awareness public service announcements features African American and Hispanic families. Recently distributed to media outlets nationwide, the announcements illustrate some early signs of autism and encourage parents to take action if their child is missing developmental milestones.
Rev. Anthony Evans handing out information Atlanta
Amy Daniels of Autism Speaks, right, shares Early Access to Care materials at a church in Atlanta