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Trainer praises Sunflowers Early Education Center Autism Team efforts
new slt mlee autism-pt2
Susan Behrens, LMSW

 EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the second of two stories on the new Autism Team at the Sunflower Diversified Services Early Education Center.


   Sunflower Early Education Center (EEC) staff members often felt stymied when it came to seeking help for parents who had questions about the possibility their child had autism.

            After all, it could take up to 18 months for an appointment with a developmental pediatrician who may be able to supply answers. Now, however, that doctor’s appointment could come much sooner because the EEC has formed its own Autism Team.

            Representatives of Technical Assistance Support Network Autism & Tertiary Behavior Supports are supplying ongoing training to local team members. TASN-ATBS is a Kansas Department of Education program working in collaboration with the University of Kansas Medical Center.

            Sarah Behrens, TASN-ATBS family services and training coordinator, has been in Great Bend twice so far and is always available to the EEC staff.

            Sunflower Diversified Services owns and operates the EEC, 1312 Patton.

            “This Sunflower team is a hard-working group that strives to do what is best for children and families,” Behrens said. “They are eager to improve their understanding about children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) to help families find support as soon as possible. Their drive to succeed will take them far.

            “This project is like no other in the country,” Behrens added. “The educational and medical systems are collaborating to provide comprehensive quality care for children with ASD and their families. Sunflower is taking the initiative to participate because its staff understands that the earliest intervention possible can make dramatic differences in the lives of children.”

            It is important for the EEC to have specialized autism training because it is the first responder when there are developmental concerns, Behrens noted.

            “The EEC staff begins forming strong relationships with families as soon as they learn of developmental concerns,” Behrens said. “These bonds allow for open communication and trust. With knowledge of ASD, the team will support families with evidence-based intervention, resources, referrals and assistance in the diagnostic process.”

            The fringe benefit to Sunflower’s team initiative is it is now connected not only to this state project, but to national organizations as well, added Behrens, who has eight years experience training teams.

            In Kansas, a clinical diagnosis of ASD is important because it is a complex disorder that can sometimes involve other health-related, developmental, neurological and genetic conditions.

            “In addition,” Behrens commented, “there is a growing body of evidence suggesting improved outcomes for most children, as well as dramatic responses to intervention for some at a young age. Some resources and services are available only to children diagnosed with ASD.”

            There is one interdisciplinary diagnostic center at KU’s Medical Center and two developmental pediatricians in Wichita.

            “By training local autism teams, we are building local capacity around youngsters and their families,” Behrens said. “And through technology at KUMC’s Telemedicine department, families and teams are able to connect with clinicians in Kansas City to see a developmental pediatrician and clinical psychologist to review testing results.”