CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va.--A new sign outside the Virginia Institute of Autism catches the eye on a drive down Westwood Road. After serving community families affected by autism for 17 years, VIA introduces a new look for its organization and growing, innovative clinical offerings.
"Over the next four months, we'll have seven new full-time clinical staff with exceptional credentials joining our team to enhance our programs," says VIA Executive Director Ethan Long. "We're doing state of the art educational and clinical practice, and we wanted a state of the art look."
The new logo, designed by The Ivy Group, coincides with exciting developments for the autism organization. VIA, most known for its year-round James C. Hormel School, is expanding its services with outpatient and adult program offerings. Most notably, the organization will soon introduce to the community a family resource navigator--the first free, professional resource of its kind for the greater Charlottesville region--to aid families in dealing with autism spectrum disorders and other developmental issues.
Beginning in August, Hilary Nagel--with more than 20 years' social work experience concentrating on parent support and early learning services--will assist families with acquiring the information they need to make critical decisions for their children with diagnosed or potential developmental disorders. Previously Family Education and Support Manager for Children, Youth & Family Services, Nagel will inform parents and caregivers of VIA education offerings and outpatient and adult services as well as local, regional and national resources external to VIA that serve those with autism.
Nagel will help families access relevant services via public and private channels, such as Medicaid Waivers, private health insurance, scholarship opportunities, etc. She will also collaborate with local community groups and medical professionals to facilitate access to services for families.
"A lot of families don't know what kind of support is available for their children," says Long. "We are working to fast-track access to care; Hilary will connect with pediatricians so families get access to intervention services sooner."
Intervention services such as VIA's Outpatient Behavioral Services program, which continues to expand since its conception last year. The program supports a growing number of clinical specialists serving about 30-40 individuals with autism within an hour radius of Charlottesville and is now accessible through Medicaid, TRICARE and Aetna.
The occurrence of autism in children has increased 300 percent over the last decade, and boys are four times more likely than girls to be diagnosed with autism. Today, one in 88 children is diagnosed with autism, making it more common than childhood cancer, juvenile diabetes and pediatric AIDS combined. With these growing numbers, Long says that support services need to diversify to be both effective and cost-efficient. VIA's outpatient teams of professionals can provide intensive ongoing behavioral support for up to 30 hours per week, or 5 to 10 hours of very focused intervention per week on specific challenges children might have.
"Children with Asperger's Disorder or other pervasive development disorders are more likely to succeed in typical public school settings, but can still have difficulties to overcome: they can get bullied, or have difficulties interacting socially, even if they're doing well academically. Often, they experience tremendous social stress," says Long. "We're working to provide a continuum of services that can meet a child and his family where they are, and deliver the level of support they need to be successful."
As part of this continuum of services VIA is also leading the way in exploring options for people with autism once they graduate from the education system and enter adulthood. Long says there is currently very little support available for individuals with autism as they become adults--providing specialized care for them is virtually a new frontier.
"This is a national issue," he says. "A huge wave of people with autism are leaving the education system and adolescence and moving into adulthood. We haven't built supports for them yet."
VIA recently welcomed Matt Osborne, to direct the VIAbility Day Support program and build services for adults with autism--and their care providers--focused on helping them develop life, vocational and social skills to be able to live, work and play as independently as possible. Osborne joined VIA after serving as Director of Psychology for the Northern Virginia Training Center. "We're bringing on professionals--practitioners at the forefront of the field in their respective areas--who are well versed in evidence-based practices: behavior analysts, psychologists, social workers, speech and language pathologists," he says. "This is an incredibly exciting time for us and the families we serve."
About the Virginia Institute of Autism
Founded in 1996, the Virginia Institute of Autism is dedicated to helping people overcome the challenges of autism through innovative, evidence-based programs in education through the James C. Hormel School, home- and community-based intervention services, school consultation services and informational workshops. Annual events such as the VIA Gala and Run for Autism 5K promote awareness and funding for autism programs in the region. For more information, visit www.viaschool.org.