Jeff and Catherine Abbott at Southwest Autism Center of Excellence in Phoenix. Submitted photo

By Breanne Krager[quote_box_right]Signs and symptoms of autism

Diagnosing ASD can be difficult since there is no medical test, like a blood test, to diagnose the disorders. Doctors look at the child’s behavior and development to make a diagnosis. Children or adults with ASD might:

  • not point at objects to show interest (for example, not point at an airplane flying over)
  • not look at objects when another person points at them
  • have trouble relating to others or not have an interest in other people at all
  • avoid eye contact and want to be alone
  • have trouble understanding other people’s feelings or talking about their own feelings
  • prefer not to be held or cuddled, or might cuddle only when they want to
  • appear to be unaware when people talk to them, but respond to other sounds
  • be very interested in people, but not know how to talk, play or relate to them
  • repeat or echo words or phrases said to them, or repeat words or phrases in place of normal language
  • have trouble expressing their needs using typical words or motions
  • not play “pretend” games (for example, not pretend to “feed” a doll)
  • repeat actions over and over again
  • have trouble adapting when a routine changes
  • have unusual reactions to the way things smell, taste, look, feel or sound
  • lose skills they once had (for example, stop saying words they were using)

Research shows early intervention services can greatly improve a child’s development. In order to make sure your child reaches his or her full potential, it is very important to get help for an ASD as soon as possible.

Source: CDC[/quote_box_right]

April signifies a very important milestone for a local family. Not only is it Autism Awareness Month, but it also marks the six-month anniversary their daughter has been employed as an autism peer support specialist.

Catherine Abbott is a high-functioning individual with autism, and the Abbott family had experienced a difficult time finding the services Catherine would need to help her gain an education and eventually achieve some independence.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports one in 64 children in Arizona are diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

“Catherine was diagnosed in 2008 when she was 10 years old,” said Jeff Abbott, Catherine’s father. “There was a little bit of a relief once Catherine was diagnosed. We felt as though the ball was finally rolling and we had found a special education plan for her. But once she graduated high school, it became evident that there was not a lot of help out there for young adults with autism.”

After experimenting with several psychiatrists after her diagnosis, Catherine Abbott was eventually paired with Dr. Ramiro Guillen, Southwest Behavioral & Health Services’ chief medical officer, and the timing could not have been better.

In recent years, Southwest Behavioral & Health Services obtained funding to create the Southwest Autism Center of Excellence. Mercy Care Plan and Mercy Maricopa Integrated Care selected the partnership of the Southwest Autism Center of Excellence and Touchstone Health Services to serve as ASD Centers of Excellence throughout the Valley.

When the center opened its doors in October 2017, the Abbotts were invited to the open house and asked to share their story. After their presentation, Catherine was offered a job as a peer support specialist, where she remains today.

“Catherine has been doing an excellent job at the Center,” Jeff Abbott said. “She currently lives independently, having moved into her own apartment in Tempe. The Center has helped our family in so many ways and provides Catherine with a safe space where she can go for help when we’re not available to drive up ourselves. It’s given her an independence that we weren’t always certain she’d be able to have.”

Southwest Autism Center of Excellence’s overarching goal is to provide the community access to a whole-health approach to diagnosing and treating ASD.

“Autism is one of the most commonly diagnosed developmental disorders in the United States. Approximately 50,000 individuals, like Catherine, with ASD turn 18 each year in the United States,” Guillen said. “We are so impressed with the work that Catherine has been doing with us. We are looking forward to celebrating the six-year anniversary of both the Center and her employment at the Center.”;

This story appears in the April issue of InMaricopa.