UNC to Launch Unprecedented Collaboration to Improve Services for Young Children with Autism and Their Families

January 13, 2014 - Researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill have received a State Implementation Grant of $900,000 from the Maternal and Child Health Bureau of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to improve services for young children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and their families.

UNC to Launch Unprecedented Collaboration to Improve Services for Young Children with Autism and Their Families
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Stephen Hooper, PhD, and Rebecca Edmondson Pretzel, PhD.

This three-year project has the primary purpose of linking both university and state partners to lower the ages by which young children receive appropriate developmental screening, ASD-specific screening, diagnostic assessments, and early intervention. North Carolina was one of only four states to be awarded funding by the Bureau during this cycle, and this initiative is one of the first to involve nearly all of the major ASD programs on UNC’s campus.

The grant is under the directorship of Stephen Hooper, PhD, Associate Dean and Chair of the UNC School of Medicine’s Department of Allied Health Sciences (DAHS), and in collaborative leadership with Rebecca Edmondson Pretzel, PhD, Associate Director of the Carolina Institute for Developmental Disabilities (CIDD).  In addition to its primary goals, this grant will allow researchers to examine strategies to increase access of families to family-centered medical homes that coordinate care with pediatric subspecialities, increase public and provider awareness of the signs and symptoms of ASD, and complete a statewide needs assessment addressing family needs and barriers to coordinated care.

To accomplish the grant’s objectives, DAHS and CIDD collaborators have enlisted the expertise of key UNC programs with a major focus on ASD, including the AHEC TEACCH Program, Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute, the Gillings School of Global Public Health, the School of Social Work, and the Cecil G. Sheps Center for Health Services Research.

“While this is certainly not the first project where various programs have collaborated on issues of ASD, it is the first project where programs have collaborated around improving the coordination of state services to children suspected of having ASD and their families,” Dr. Hooper said. “We are fortunate to receive these additional resources from the Maternal and Child Health Bureau, and excited about this opportunity to enlist the expertise of our UNC partners and key state agencies, such as the Autism Society of North Carolina, the state of North Carolina Early Intervention Program, and the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction pre-kindergarten programs, in addressing these ASD-related needs across the state.”

A key component of this program will be assessing the needs of families from across the state, particularly with respect to their experiences with early screening, diagnostic assessments, and early intervention. Increasing public awareness of the early signs and symptoms of ASD also will be an annual objective, with significant efforts being devoted to rural and underserved regions of the state and examining the pathways by which families have access to the necessary services to address their child’s medical and developmental needs. 

“The state of North Carolina is fortunate to have a number of service systems in place to address the needs of young children with developmental disabilities and their families,” said Dr. Edmondson Pretzel.  “We are confident that this new funding will enhance current efforts and facilitate additional improvements for young children with ASD and their families.”

For additional information pertaining to the newly awarded ASD State Implementation Grant, please contact Dr. Stephen Hooper, Associate Dean and Chair of the Department of Allied Health Sciences () or Dr. Rebecca Edmonson Pretzel, Associate Director of the Carolina Institute for Developmental Disabilities ().