When it comes to helping children with disabilities reach their full potential, early detection and intervention is critical, especially before the age of three. According to the Urban Child Institute, “Between conception and age three, a child’s brain undergoes an impressive amount of change. At birth, it already has about all of the neurons it will ever have. It doubles in size in the first year, and by age three it has reached 80 percent of its adult volume. Even more importantly, synapses are formed at a faster rate during these years than at any other time.”
Data from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that the estimated number of children identified with autism spectrum disorder continues to rise. Their recent statistics indicate that autism prevalence is now about 1 in 68 children. It’s being called an epidemic and locally, there are organizations, like Harwood Center, working to help these children and their families.
Founded in 1957, Harwood Center is a nonprofit providing education, therapy, and support for Mid-South families and children, ages 18 months to five, who have developmental disabilities and diagnoses such as autism, Down syndrome, and cerebral palsy. They have three locations: UT Boling Center in downtown, Hope Presbyterian Church in Cordova, and the Memphis Jewish Community Center.
Harwood’s services are tailored to meet the individualized needs of each child with a 3:8 teacher to child ratio in their classrooms. They provide specialized early intervention and pre-kindergarten services; classroom based Applied Behavior Analysis therapy, which provides one-on-one time with a therapist; and a kindergarten transition classroom to help with assimilation into first grade.
The average cost to provide this level of care is $15,000-$20,000 per child a year; but Harwood’s families only pay a fraction of that cost because they don’t want to turn families in need away. Unfortunately, Tennessee is one of only seven states that does not mandate insurance coverage for behavior therapy for kids with autism; but luckily local funders like United Way and Baptist Memorial Health Care have been stepping up to help our youth.
There are a number ways and upcoming events, like the Opening Eyes to Autism 5k and Harwood Center’s 57th Annual Handicappers Golf Tournament, where you can help, as well. Visit harwoodcenter.org to learn more.