The Marcus Autism Center is one of the largest clinical centers for autism care in the U.S., impacting nearly 10,000 kids a year outside its walls and 5,000 at its Briarcliff location. This outpatient facility continues to create innovative treatments through impactful research.
The prevalence statistics can be staggering: at 1 in 68 children in the U.S., the rate of autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are higher than that of all childhood cancer, juvenile diabetes, muscular dystrophy, and cystic fibrosis cases combined. Marcus Autism Center is striving to make autism an issue of diversity, not one of disability.
“There’s a saying in the community, if you’ve met one kid with autism, then you’ve met one kid with autism,” said Dr. Chris Gunter, Director of Communications Operations at the Marcus Autism Center and Associate Professor of the Department of Pediatrics at Emory University School of Medicine. “It’s such a broad diagnosis. Every child is different and every child has different needs and conditions,” said Gunter.
According to the National Autism Association, 40 percent of children with autism don’t speak and 25 – 30 percent of children with autism regress in speech after communicating some learned words at around 12 to 18 months.
“We firmly believe that autism is a neuro-developmental disorder, which means what autism looks like in a 12-month-old is different than what it looks like in an 8-year-old,” said Gunter. “Through our various programs and therapies, we coordinate care and strive to help each child live up to their potential.”
Viewing room at Marcus Autism Center
As one of only three National Institute of Health-funded Autism Centers for Excellence, Marcus’s research funding has grown exponentially in just five short years, from $50,000 to $25 million annually. Such growth continues to allow Marcus to produce cutting-edge research; more importantly, they are committed to translating research into treatment and expanded programming beyond the outpatient facility into the community.
Marcus’s has three major treatment programs: the Language and Learning Clinic, which addresses core symptoms and helps children develop communication skills; the Feeding Disorders Program, since at least half of children with ASD develop feeding problems; and the Behavior Treatment Clinic, which focuses on self injury, injury to others, pica, regression, and elopement (running away), one of the leading causes of premature death in autism.
Classroom at Marcus Autism Center
“We are stretching the limits of our capacity every day, and we recognize that we can’t see everyone. We provide a lot of parent and caregiver training so they can be the therapist in the home,” said Gunter. “My colleagues Karen Bearss and Larry Scahill published the largest non-pharmaceutical clinical trial in April 2015 in the Journal of the American Medical Association, showing parent training to be an effective method.”
Reinforcing messaging that supports early intervention and treatment, evidence-base therapies, and world acceptance, Marcus has moved beyond just autism awareness. Marcus continues to increase its efforts to help communities understand how vast and diverse ASD is and how important social acceptance is for the ASD community and beyond.
“It’s interesting because people want to move from autism awareness to autism acceptance,” said Gunter. “From our experience, if you talk to a lot of advocates and adults who have autism, they want to be able to function in the world, and we help provide them with the functional skills they need.”
View this touching video about an 8-year-old girl named Shae, whose brother has ASD and her plea.
In its quest to communicate ASD science to the world, Marcus recently worked with EGL to discuss the value of genetic testing for ASD during a webinar titled, “The Clinical Utility of Genetic Testing for Autism Spectrum Disorders.” Marcus continues its work with Emory Genetics Laboratory to ensure that every child that receives a new diagnosis at Marcus gets a microarray. For more information about the Marcus Autism Center and its research, visit Marcus.org/research