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NC Autism Services Struggle to Keep Up with Demand

The expansion of the Autism Clinic in Winston-Salem will enable the clinic to treat more children and offer additional services to children and their families. (KOMU News/flickr)
The expansion of the Autism Clinic in Winston-Salem will enable the clinic to treat more children and offer additional services to children and their families. (KOMU News/flickr)
January 3, 2018

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. – Rates of autism diagnosis are on the increase in North Carolina, up 30 percent since 2012.

But in many parts of the state, families are waiting up to 18 months for the initial evaluation.

That is changing for at least one community in the state, with the expansion of the Autism Clinic in Winston-Salem.

Open since 2013, the clinic recently received a $1.5 million grant from the State Employees Credit Union that will fund a larger clinic and additional staff.

Selena Johnson, executive director of the Autism Clinic, explains why reducing the wait times for diagnosis is so important.

"All the research shows that the earlier and more intensively we intervene, the better the long-term outcomes for individuals with autism, so you can imagine getting an early diagnosis is really important," she states.

Johnson says since opening in a temporary location, the Autism Clinic has been able to keep wait periods to six to 10 weeks.

In addition to providing evaluations, the clinic will offer proven applied behavior analysis therapy and life-skills training where patients can role play situations such as visiting a dentist office, that sometimes provide a challenge to people with autism.

In 2016, North Carolina became the 43rd state to pass a law mandating insurers cover applied behavior analysis therapies for people with autism.

Johnson says as a result, the demand for such services is currently exceeding what is available in many parts of the state.

"There just aren't enough providers because, as you can imagine, when a law like that goes into effect, it's not just like the providers are sitting around waiting for that,” she explains. “So our state has to catch up."

With this expansion, the Autism Clinic, which currently serves 350 children annually and employs 60 people, is expected to more than double its capacity and staff size within two years.


Stephanie Carson, Public News Service - NC