Autism center receiving state funding

Amongst all of the higher education budget cuts going on around Michigan, EMU’s autism center gets $500,000 grant.

Eastern Michigan University officials are working to cover a $11 million deficit facing the school’s budget for the fiscal year, but in the midst of budget cuts, the Autism Collaborative Center is set to receive state funding.

The $500,000 state grant, which is pending Gov. Rick Snyder’s signature, will allow staff to use the latest technology in live video streaming called the Telehealth model. Intended to provide remote healthcare to patients all over the state with Autism, staff are expecting it to hold a promising future.

“We would eventually have the ability to provide consultations to families living in rural communities or who just don’t have the resources to reach a facility,” Director of the ACC Pamela Lemerande said. The new technology, which will begin to be utilized in the fall, is designed to monitor those with autism for real-life support.

“The hardest thing for my mom was to let go and trust that my brother (who had autism) was going to be OK, and I can understand that,” Dr. Sally Burton-Hoyle, EMU professor of special education, said. “We want to make everything as comfortable as possible… The families are our number one goal.”

The audio and video capabilities offered by the Telehealth system are expected to give families and EMU students working at the center thorough footage of patients so everyday tasks can be carried out with ease and safety.

“Eventually, we want to get all the science majors we deal with involved—nine different fields in one room, observing and offering their unique perspectives,” Burton-Hoyle said.

According to Burton-Hoyle, students in fields such as social work, occupational therapy, psychology, music therapy and speech pathology among others would be at the forefront of their profession with training in this new treatment model.

The Autism Collaborative Center, located in the Fletcher School Building on Cornell Road, will be spearheading a remote healthcare model in the field of autism treatment. Currently, the only technology of this kind being used in Michigan is telepsychology, practiced by Dr. Norman Alessi in Ann Arbor. With Telehealth, the center hopes to provide the best training possible for students in a variety of fields.

“I see it being the future of healthcare,” Lemerande said.

But with none of the funds allocated to operating the facility itself, which was featured on PBS in February, some are beginning to wonder if they will receive funding from university.

“We are one of the top training programs representing the EMU; I would think the university would fund us more,” said staff member and professor Gretchen Reeves.

If the center did receive more funding, Burton-Hoyle mentioned the importance of general funds to support families at lower service fees, such as speech sessions. She explained that hospitals rates are usually $100-$140 per session and EMU’s Collaborative Center asks for about half.

“If we could lower costs even more for our community, that would be a dream come true,” Burton-Hoyle said. “We’re a family-based center which is totally different than going to a hospital. Having that personal touch is what we’re all about.”

As it stands, a significant number of science majors work along side the ACC. Burton-Hoyle hopes that number will grow by opening the center up to anyone wishing to volunteer, regardless of majors.

She also wants to focus more on improving social skills, especially for adults.

“We want to continue training our students in the best way possible so they’re not afraid or hold back, and I think that with this money, we can go above and beyond,” Burton-Hoyle said.

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