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Mercer University gets grant to develop autism resources

Autism spectrum disorder affects 1 in 44 children in the U.S., according to Mercer's Sarah Rotschafer

MACON, Ga. — The Mercer University School of Medicine hopes to make a difference in the lives of rural Georgians affected by autism.

Heaven Smith has two young boys with autism, but in order to get them tested for it, she had to drive all the way to Atlanta. She says she couldn't get resources until they got diagnosed. Mercer hopes their "Autism Toolkit" will help Central Georgians avoid that experience.

Heaven Smith knows how hard it is to be a single mother raising two boys with autism. 

"I know so many moms and so many dads that just break down and cry because it is hard," Smith said. "I'm here for all the resources so I can learn how to help them." 

Autism spectrum disorder affects 1 in 44 children in the U.S., according Sarah Rotschafer, an assistant professor of neuroscience at Mercer. She says this new grant will help them develop an Autism Toolkit for Central Georgians.

"Really, we want this to be kind of a 'one-stop shop' for a parent who might be concerned about their child," Rotschafer said.

The toolkit is designed to help parents with children on the spectrum adults with autism spectrum disorder, and health-care providers learn more about ASD.

"I would love to be able to learn more about autism so I can be a better parent," Smith said.

The toolkit will include information about child development resources like how to get a kid tested as well as a map with resources close to you.

"Early intervention is very important for a child's long-term outcomes and wellbeing if they do have autism," Rotschafer said.

Smith says this kind of tool would have helped her last year when she was first getting her children tested.

 "Services make life easier, not only for them, but for the parents because there is no book that tells you how to raise a child with special needs," Smith said. 

Mercer needs help building the website so it can be the most useful for those who need it. They're looking for community members across Central Georgia to give their lived experience, either those who have grown up with autism or parents who have raised a child with it.

The Autism Toolkit website should take off near the beginning of 2023. They're hoping to get input from community members before it's posted publicly. 

If you want to get involved, Sarah Rotschafer says to contact her via email.

   

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