Autism affects one in 150 children, according to recent estimates from the Centers for Disease Control. The Alpine Autism Center is the only place in the Pikes Peak region supporting children with autism and their families.A decade ago, it was estimated that four or five people in 10,000 had autism. Because of the rapid increase in diagnoses and the importance of early detection, advocates are working to raise autism awareness among parents, educators and doctors
“Early intervention is really key to allowing the children to reach their full potential,” says Fiona Terry, office administrator at the Alpine Autism Center in Colorado Springs.
The center partners with five area school districts to help detect and provide care for children with autism. Some children attend educational therapy programs at the center, and others participate in family consultations and school-transition programs.
The Alpine Autism Center was started two years ago by a group of parents who had few local resources for their children with autism. Studies have shown that children with autism do best with extensive, one-on-one therapy, Terry says.
“That’s what we would like all children with autism in the Pikes Peak region to have,” she says.
But even though autism has become so prevalent, most insurance companies won’t pay for therapy. The only one Terry knows of that does is TRICARE, the insurance provided by the military. The problem, she says, is that the therapy provided by the center is both educational and medical, so it’s not clear if it is the responsibility of the schools or insurance providers.
“There’s no ownership to it, because it’s both,” Terry says. “It’s not very obvious who would be responsible for it.”
The center receives some of its funding through its contracts with five school districts. And, because of nearby Fort Carson and the Air Force Academy, many children are covered by TRICARE. But, there are some families who have to pay for autism therapy out-of-pocket.
To help it stay afloat, the center holds an annual golf tournament and other fundraisers. But, raising awareness is just as important as raising money.
“I think now people are starting to become aware of autism, but understanding is still lacking” Terry says. “There’s still a lot of education that needs to be put out there for families, schools and physicians.”
For more information, visit the Alpine Autism Center Web site.