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Finding Help and Hope on the Spectrum

Finding Help and Hope on the Spectrum

Orange County center provides cutting edge resources for parents and children dealing with autism spectrum disorders.

Newport Beach mom Danielle grew up in a family of all girls, so when her son, Matthew, didn’t click with his preschool classmates, she chalked up his behavior to that of a “goofball” boy. But when the admissions counselor at a private kindergarten denied admission to Matthew saying that he “wasn’t quite with us,” Danielle and her husband Dave could no longer ignore his behavioral issues.

“We knew what she meant by that,” Danielle recalls. “He had struggles. He was locked in. He could block out the world.”

Danielle discussed her frustrations with a colleague, who suggested that Matthew be seen by Dr. Robin Steinberg-Epstein of The Center for Autism & Neurodevelopmental Disorders in Santa Ana.

“When you hear about autism on the news, you hear a lot about kids who lack empathy,” Danielle said. “Matthew was always very affectionate, so I thought, ‘Well, that rules out autism.’”

But Dr. Epstein had a different assessment. Understandably, Danielle met the diagnosis with mixed emotions. “I was glad that someone was taking a deeper look at our child and understanding the complexity of his impairment. But at the same time, it was scary. You don’t know what the future holds.”

New data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) finds that one in 68 U.S. children suffers from an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). To confront this enormous challenge, The Center has adopted an ambitious mission: to become the nation’s premier center for evaluation, treatment, education and research for the wide range of autism spectrum disorders (ASD).

The Center gives parents of children with ASD “knowledge and community,” Danielle explained. So she and her husband turned to them early on when their second son, Dean, exhibited signs of autism like his older brother Matthew.

Based on training she received at The Center, Danielle recognized the early warning signs and moved quickly to have Dean assessed by Dr. Epstein. “I now see marked improvement in him, especially because he was diagnosed at a younger age.”

The Center first opened in September 2001 as For OC Kids, offering diagnosis, treatment and family support for children up to age 5. But catalytic change came in 2012 through the leadership and support of the William & Nancy Thompson Family Foundation and the Children and Families Commission of Orange County, which together infused $14.8 million to launch a new vision for their work with a new set of partners, an expanded scope of services and a new name—The Center for Autism & Neurodevelopmental Disorders.

The Center’s partnerships now extend to CHOC Children’s, Chapman University and UC Irvine — enhancing their services with a powerful blend of education, community engagement, and ground-breaking research.

Says the Center’s executive director Catherine Brock, “partners like the Commission and the Thompson Family Foundation have taken us from a small local operation to a nationally-recognized organization on the cutting edge of what is taking place within the medical community.”

If you know a family struggling with autism, let them know that hope and help is here, right in their own backyard.

To learn more about nonprofits working to support families facing autism, visit Nonprofit Central at ocnonprofitcentral.org.

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Shelley Hoss is president of the Orange County Community Foundation. She can be reached at shoss@oc-cf.org.

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