Autism services expand at Strive

Strive, formerly Mesa Developmental Services, is expanding its offerings for people with autism.

The organization has offered some autism services before, but its new Skills program attempts to roll those services and others deemed to be “best practices” into one curriculum. That curriculum includes work on language development, developing age-appropriate play and motor skills, improving cognitive functions, teaching appropriate social skills, and working on self-awareness and attention skills.

Most of the work is done in the home with some work in a community setting. The program can involve up to 40 hours a week of skill-development work, although not all of that time involves a therapist, as some work can be done by parents.

Sharon Jacksi, vice president of health and wellness for Strive, said people with autism, particularly children, may have had to seek services from multiple sources before Skills came together. Strive wanted to change that.

“Many on the (autism) spectrum would not meet the disability classification, so they wouldn’t qualify for services” at Strive, Jacksi said. “The goal of this is to serve the whole spectrum, whether there’s an intellectual disability or not.”

Skills separates service offerings into two categories: services for children from birth to age 8, and services for children and adults over the age of 8. Skills counselor Patti Hoffman said the younger children focus on intense, Applied Behavioral Analysis treatment to work on catching up to age level in pragmatic skills, such as social interaction and communication, while older people in the program work on fine-tuning those skills to get them as age-appropriate as possible.

The average age of diagnosis with an autism spectrum disorder is in the 5- to 7-year-old range in Colorado, Jacksi said. But the sooner children are diagnosed, according to Hoffman, the more likely it is they will catch up to their peers in social and behavioral skills.

“If they’re diagnosed prior to age 5, the prognosis is significantly improved,” Hoffman said.

One in 88 U.S. children was diagnosed with autism in 2008, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network. That’s up from one in 150 in 2000, when there were fewer diagnostic sites reporting to the CDC.

The increase in diagnoses generated demand for autism services in Grand Junction and was a big driver for the creation of Skills and a partnership between Strive and JFK Partners that began bringing a psychologist from Denver to Grand Junction starting last July to make medical diagnoses of autism in local children. Before that, most local parents had to travel to Denver or just get an “educational diagnosis” from a school psychologist.

An educational diagnosis is not enough for most insurance companies to pay for treatment, Hoffman said. Plus, the treatment most insurances will cover has to be Applied Behavioral Analysis treatment, which is what Skills offers. Skills treatment is covered by some insurance and can also be billed on a sliding scale.

Any parent interested in the program can call Hoffman at 256-8676 or Jacksi at 256-8608.


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