Early Support Program for Autism connects families to autism resources

A free program offered by Stanford Children’s Health and the Children’s Health Council connects families of recently diagnosed autism patients with Bay Area treatment resources.

Antonio Hardan

Finding autism caregivers and treatments is a daunting challenge for families facing a new autism diagnosis. But now there’s help.

The Early Support Program for Autism, a free service with no waiting list, gives parents someone to call for up-to-date information about doctors, therapists, treatment programs and other community resources. The program is run by two providers of autism services, Stanford Children’s Health and the Children’s Health Council. Both. Both are based in Palo Alto, Calif.

“Parents are usually overwhelmed when they receive the diagnosis,” said program director Antonio Hardan, MD. “We developed this program to fill a void in the autism services in the Bay Area.” Hardan is also director of the Autism and Developmental Disabilities Clinic at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford and a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the School of Medicine.

“This program meets a huge need,” said Ramsey Khasho, PsyD, who leads the program at CHC and also directs The Center at CHC, which focuses on behavioral health services for children and teens. “We help families get connected to local resources, and also provide some basic education about what autism is and how to work with their child at home.”

Parents are usually overwhelmed when they receive the diagnosis.

The Early Support Program for Autism offers two primary types of services, in both English and Spanish: a clinical care coordinator, whom families can call for information about autism resources in the Bay Area, and a parent educator, who offers parents up to five consultations to help them build a strong relationship with their young child with autism.

“We added the services of the parent educator because many parents tell us that, in the midst of trying to establish autism treatment, it’s easy for them to lose sight of what’s important, which is their relationship with their child,” said Grace Gengoux, PhD, a child psychologist and clinical assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford. The parent educator teaches parents developmentally appropriate, play-based skills for building bonds with their children who have autism.

“It’s not a replacement for intensive autism treatment, but gives parents a place to start while they wait for therapy to begin,” Gengoux added.

The program was designed to help parents of young children right after diagnosis, typically before age 5. The parent educator’s services are offered only for families with young children, but the clinical care coordinator can also provide information about autism resources for older children and adults. Since launching in July 2013, the program has assisted more than 300 families. Because of a grant from the John & Marcia Goldman Foundation, the program provides services at no cost to families.

“I’ve spent the last 25 years of my career as an autism educator, so I am well aware of how overwhelming it is for parents to receive an autism diagnosis,” said Marcia Goldman. “John and I were motivated to establish the Early Support Program for Autism to create an easier and less stressful process for these families.”

More information about the program is available online at http://espa.stanford.edu, by phone at (650) 723-3772 or by e-mail at autismsupport@stanford.edu

Stanford Medicine integrates research, medical education and health care at its three institutions - Stanford University School of Medicine, Stanford Health Care (formerly Stanford Hospital & Clinics), and Lucile Packard Children's Hospital Stanford. For more information, please visit the Office of Communication & Public Affairs site at http://mednews.stanford.edu.

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