Autism Experts and Community Members Work Together

By Jennifer Palma

Autism Experts and Community Members Work Together

By Jennifer Palma
The Center for Autism Related Disabilities (CARD) has joined a national team to address the needs of with children on the autism spectrum.

As part of a five-year, $10.2 million Autism Centers of Excellence (ACE) Network grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the University of Miami’s Center for Autism Related Disabilities (CARD) has joined a team of interdisciplinary autism experts from around the country to pilot innovative, community-based solutions that will aim to improve early diagnosis and intervention outcomes for children on the spectrum.

“The team at CARD is honored to be part of this groundbreaking multi-site study. As one of only four ACE Network grants in the country, our involvement is an extraordinary honor and our work will have a direct impact locally and nationally,” said Michael Alessandri, executive director of the UM’s CARD and assistant chairman of the Department of Psychology at UM’s College of Arts and Sciences.

Despite the ability to diagnose and treat children on the spectrum as early as 18 months, families in low-income, minority and rural communities have unique challenges that often prevent the early diagnosis and intervention that are vital for creating positive outcomes. Through the ACE Network grant, the research team at UM, led by Alessandri and his colleague, research associate professor in the department of psychology, Anibal Gutierrez, will join a team of experts from Florida State University, Boston University, the University of Massachusetts Boston, Kaiser Permanente, the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and the National Black Church Initiative to engage and empower community members that have direct access to the families and children in need.

The goal of the group is to train a workforce of part-time, culturally-sensitive community health workers that will have the proper knowledge to assist families throughout the diagnosis and treatment process. Referred to as family navigators, the community members are not required to have a specialty degree but will most likely be individuals who currently specialize in working with families in their communities.

“The family navigators will have the same tools, information, and training used by experts, and their involvement will address the gap between diagnosis and treatment while providing the necessary resources and guidance,” said Alessandri. “This project will take a completely new approach to reaching our most vulnerable children and will provide ongoing support and education for families throughout the entire process,” he added.

Alessandri, along with a team of UM researchers and clinicians will join their peers to establish and train the network of family navigators. As part of the ACE Network grant, the team will focus on working with families in Florida, Massachusetts, and California and will continuously assess their efforts and adjust the approach and technology as needed.

For more information on services and support available to families through UM CARD, please visit: http://www.psy.miami.edu/community-outreach/uautism/