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Posted: March 21, 2014 | Updated March 31, 2014
In late March 2014, it was reported that new data released by the CDC found that one in 68 U.S. children had an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in 2010—a 30 percent increase from 2008. Most children with an ASD are diagnosed after they reach the age of 4, and research shows that early detection and treatment greatly improves a child’s development and future.
For children with an ASD and their families living in Greater Worcester, facilities offering comprehensive diagnosis and treatment—at an average wait time of nine to 18 months—were only available in or near Boston. Until now.
In June 2013, the Center for Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disorders (CANDO) Clinic, a joint effort of UMass Medical School and UMass Memorial Health Care, was launched. The first-ever interdisciplinary autism disorder clinic in Metro West and Central Massachusetts, the CANDO Clinic is a single point of entry that provides timely, comprehensive evaluations and short-term treatment services.
“We were really excited to start this clinic because in Metro West, Central Massachusetts and Western Massachusetts there hasn’t been a clinic that serves multiple complex children and children with autism,” said Jean A. Frazier, MD, the Robert M. and Shirley S. Siff Chair in Autism, professor of psychiatry and pediatrics, and medical director of CANDO.
“It’s really difficult,” said Brandy Melhouse, whose son Nathan was diagnosed with autism at age 5. “You don’t know where to go and when you do get in to see a doctor, you get a piece of paper with some recommendations on it and then you’re sent off. We went to CANDO where they will connect those pieces for you.”
Services at the clinic are provided by a combination of specialists at every stage of patient care, from evaluation and treatment to transition to community providers. The clinic is also uniquely positioned to further scientific understanding of autism spectrum and other neurodevelopmental disorders.
“One of the advantages our relationship with the Medical School gives the health system is that it allows us to attract world-class talent into the Worcester area,” said Eric W. Dickson, MD, MHCM, FACEP, president and CEO of UMass Memorial Health Care. “The CANDO Clinic is the perfect example of that.”
“Our long-term plan is to provide a permanent integrated clinical, research and teaching clinic for patients with ASD and neurodevelopmental disorders across the lifespan,” said Dr. Frazier. “Launching the CANDO Clinic was the first step.”
While operational support from UMMS and UMass Memorial provides the foundation for the clinic, Frazier also noted that traditional insurance reimbursements do not begin to cover the costs of providing services, which means that private funding is an essential part of starting and maintaining this initiative.
“We anticipated that only half of the cost of the 20-week CANDO program would be covered by insurance reimbursement,” she said.
An anonymous family has made a $500,000 gift to help launch the CANDO effort. In order to maximize the impact of philanthropic support for the clinic, the family has offered a challenge match opportunity: if an additional $500,000 is raised for CANDO by June 30, 2014, the donor family will match it dollar for dollar.
Substantial support has also come from the Doug Flutie Jr. Foundation for Autism, which awarded CANDO a $20,000 grant, and from the 2013 Winter Ball, at which $150,000 was raised during the Fund-A-Need auction, the centerpiece of this annual fundraising gala. Both the grant and the gala proceeds will be matched by that anonymous donor family.
“With additional resources, we can make our clinic available to more families and children,” said Michael F. Collins, MD, chancellor of UMass Medical School. “We can conduct groundbreaking research, we can establish partnerships with payers, and most importantly, we can make a big difference in the lives of children and the health of their families.”
Story published in the Spring 2014 edition of the Your UMass medicine newsletter (pdf).
Help our academic health sciences system improve the health and well-being of children with autism and other neurodevelopmental disorders and their families.