A Piece of the Puzzle: A Look at MUSC’s Lowcountry Autism ...

Holy City Beat | Sierra Debrow | April 12, 2016

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There is a saying in the field of disability work related to Autism Spectrum Disorders – that ‘if you know one person with autism, you know one person with autism.’ This is because Autism Spectrum Disorders, or ASDs, exist on a continuum. No two people behave exactly the same way, and while their diagnoses may look identical on paper, ASDs manifest in many different ways on an individual basis. Because of the variable nature of these disorders, treatment plans often must be personalized to fit an individual’s needs. This can be tricky; for every accommodation that a child requires there must be a paid, trained specialist providing these aids. The costs can add up quickly. The CDC reports that on top of any medical expenses, behavioral treatments for children with ASDs can range from an additional $40,000 to $60,000 per child per year. Over the past few months, I have had the wonderful experience of working with the Lowcountry Autism Foundation, a Charleston-based non-profit that works with families to address the many challenges that accompany the diagnosis of an Autism Spectrum Disorder. The Lowcountry Autism Foundation at the Medical University of South Carolina is a local non-profit that aims to provide access to high quality, affordable, and personalized services for families of people with ASDs throughout the South Carolina coastal counties.

Originally founded in 2008, the Lowcountry Autism Foundation supports families at every step of a child’s development, from early intervention and autism screenings to accessing various therapies based on a child’s needs. Since then, the organization has assisted over 800 families throughout the state.  In 2016, the Lowcountry Autism Foundation will continue to offer their Diagnostic Evaluation Program, Behavioral and Educational Support Programs, Art Therapy Program and various training and social skills opportunities. In addition, they established an art- therapy- based parent support group to allow parents to share their experiences through an artistic lens.

My passion for providing services to families of people and individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders and other developmental disabilities began in 2011, when I was a rising junior in high school. My high school summers were spent at the Union for Reform Judaism’s Kutz Camp – a leadership camp for teens from all over the world. At this camp, teens select a ‘major’ to specialize in that they participate in for the entire summer. During the summers between my sophomore and senior year, I selected ‘Mitzvah Corps’ as my major; the Mitzvah Corps program at Kutz, now called the Gibush program, is the URJ’s longest running program promoting the inclusion of teens with disabilities. From 2013 to 2015, I was a one-on-one counselor for teens with autism as a part of the Gibush program; this job has challenged me to explore my own motivations and skill sets, pushing myself to learn more each and every year.

This semester, working as an intern for the Lowcountry Autism Foundation has been both busy and inspiring. Working with this organization has encouraged me to keep up-to-date with news and research that affects the field of disability work, applying new ideas and perspectives to the work that I do. I have talked to countless parents who are thankful for the comprehensive services that they receive from the Lowcountry Autism Foundation. From our conversations, it is clear to me that this non-profit has made a positive impact on so many members of the Charleston community and beyond. As April is Autism Awareness and Acceptance Month, the Lowcountry Autism Foundation has launched a social media campaign to spread the word about what services exist for people with ASDs. It is their hope that this campaign will start a conversation about how we, as a community, can expand upon these services to better fit everyone’s needs. For the month of April, you can also support the Lowcountry Autism Foundation by buying the Fat Boy Chicken Philly at Persimmon Café; a percentage of the proceeds from each sandwich will be donated to the organization to support the services that they provide. The sandwich is available from Monday through Saturday from 4-9 p.m.

For more information about the Lowcountry Autism Foundation, volunteering, or events during Autism Awareness Month, like the Lowcountry Autism Foundation on Facebook or go to lafinc.org.