Autism hearing gathers area information

Published 2:00pm Thursday, October 3, 2013

Several family members of people diagnosed on the autistic-spectrum attended a public hearing at the Mississippi Adolescent Center Tuesday to share concerns and questions about their place in the community.

Director for the adolescent center Shirley Miller, who said she is a member of the Mississippi Autism Advisory Committee, explained one of the purposes for meeting.

“We are hoping to receive input from people in the community who possibly work with autistic people, and from families who deal with the disorder,” she said. “The information we gather, we will take to our lawmakers, service providers and policy makers and have an influence with them about the needs of our community.”

Audience member David Holland stood and spoke. Holland has a five-year-old granddaughter who is high-functioning and his main concern was learning how to encourage social skills when her home computer provides her with a comfort zone that doesn’t require communicating with the world around her.

“Because the computer provides her with such a focus that is taken away from the world around her,” he said, “very similar to the way autism distracts, I want to know how to encourage social skills, when even in the classroom, she can be set in front of a computer and forgotten.”

Emily and Terry Cutler said their 10-year-old grandchild attends public school in Brookhaven and even though there is a special education classroom setting they don’t feel she is getting the level of education that could benefit her most.

“We are concerned with her place in our school system,” the grandmother said. “She’s one of those who have fallen through the cracks. We feel she could be far more high functioning but the special education class there just isn’t geared toward autism.”

Another grandparent, Robert Frith, resounded that concern.

“Our public schools are ill-equipped to serve autistic children,” he said. “My grandchild is very verbal,” he emphasized. “This gets her into a lot of trouble – and that’s the issue – you can’t deal with autistic children on the same level as with other children. I hope to see our teachers receive special training to teach autistic children.”

Todd Durstein and his wife Regina had a different take on the same issue of classroom needs. Todd is unusual in that his diagnosis came later in life. Several years ago he was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, a diagnosis only recently on the radar. He was attending graduate school and struggling on standard tests.

His wife knew him to be very intelligent – she bragged on his musical abilities – and had heard of Asperger’s. She noticed her husband’s habits and mannerisms resembled the disorder. A diagnosis then confirmed it. He was given a different way to take his tests and this made a great deal of difference in his success, his wife said.

The couple reinforced the idea that sometimes students need to be dealt with in a different way in the classroom to get the right results.

The Mississippi Adolescent Center offers services and resources for a variety of people with special disabilities and disorders, and Miller

said that as a member of the Mississippi Autism Advisory Committee she will pass these concerns on to Mississippi legislators.

“Now, we write a report to our representatives in the legislature,” Miller said, “telling them that we have spoken with parents and families and we are voicing their concerns. That’s why the hearing was important. Because we need to know what families need from us as providers, as educators and physicians.”

Services at the center include training and practice in such areas as behavioral intervention, communication skill building, independent living skills, prevocational and recreational skills.

The center is located at 760 Brookman Drive Ext. in Brookhaven. Call (601) 823-5700 to talk to a staff member about your concerns or to learn about the different services offered by Mississippi Adolescent Center.