Zoe Eiselt and her dad, Kurt Eiselt, at the MIND Institute Resource Library

A Lifespan Approach to Autism

by | Jan 8, 2019 | Discoveries, Fall/Winter 2018-19, Health

“The more independent you become, the more confident you feel. With each new skill I learn, I gain confidence and feel good about what I’m doing,” shared Zoe Eiselt, a 19-year-old high school student with autism who has participated in social skill groups at the UC Davis MIND Institute. With the help of the institute and her family, Eiselt has developed skills that put her on track to achieve her dreams — attending college, getting married, having a family and traveling.

Currently, one in 59 children in the U.S. is diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder — triple the number of families affected in 2000 — according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Effective treatments for ASD are not widely available, leaving many families without access to care, especially those in rural, low-income and underserved areas. In addition, services are limited for adults with ASD.

This need led UC Davis to launch the Autism, Community and Technology initiative, which envisions a first-of-its-kind lifespan approach relevant to those living with autism. The MIND Institute already serves more than 6,000 patients per year and is poised to widely share its expertise and care through technological advances and the empowerment of families and health professionals.

“We try to think of everything we do at the MIND Institute in terms of families,” said Director Len Abbeduto, champion of this university initiative. “I remember walking through our clinics and seeing a child who was there to be evaluated for autism, but it was not just him — it was [his] mom, dad, big brother, aunt and grandparents. They were all invested. For me, that was an aha moment, that autism is not just something that resides in an individual, but something that changes families forever.”

Solutions will utilize virtual visits, mobile apps, video teleconferencing, Bluetooth devices for real-time coaching, virtual reality, wearables and trainings and consultations for health providers and parents. These developments will be refined through research and scientific evidence to fill gaps in care and reduce health disparities, especially through the use of telehealth for those who cannot travel long distances but want to receive expert care from the MIND Institute.

The initiative will also address community-level needs, by bringing together families, caregivers and local resources to address challenges faced by individuals of all ages with autism and in all the settings in which they live and learn.

This is one of several Big Ideas, forward-thinking, interdisciplinary programs and projects that will build upon the strengths of UC Davis to positively impact the world for generations to come. Learn more at bigideas.ucdavis.edu.