New autism program filling ‘unexpected but significant’ gaps in healthcare and disability services

A pilot program emphasizing individualized care is accepting Anthem referrals and currently has approximately 20 people enrolled. (Provided Photo/Easterseals Crossroads)

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) – Easterseals Crossroads, the largest disability services organization in Indianapolis, is offering expanded support and coordinated care to children and adults with autism spectrum disorder through a new partnership with Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield.

A pilot program emphasizing individualized care is accepting Anthem referrals and currently has approximately 20 people enrolled, said Tracy Gale, director of autism and behavior services at Easterseals.

She described the program’s broad range of services as “unique” and said they filled unexpected gaps in local healthcare and disability support.

Easterseals care coordinators work with members to develop individual goals, assist with access to medication or other treatment and connect families with community resources.

“[Children and adults with autism] have needs beyond basic medical or behavioral services,” Gale explained. “Our care coordinators help with all kinds of daily challenges and decisions. Things that other families can take for granted are not necessarily things that families we’re serving in this program can take for granted.”

One family in the autism program struggled with back-to-school shopping, she told 24-Hour News 8.

They needed school supplies but were hesitant to visit any community supply drives because crowds and loud noises triggered outbursts and other behavioral issues in their child.

“Our care coordinator was able to locate a drive that they could go to that would be quieter [and less] overwhelming,” said Gale. “We were able to help that family meet a very basic need of [acquiring] school supplies going into the school year.”

It felt “incredibly rewarding” to provide a necessary – but often overlooked – service that helped a family avoid uncomfortable situations they had struggled with in the past, she added.

Another care coordinator helped a member sit through lengthy neurological testing by rewarding her with Cheetos throughout the appointment when other techniques failed to keep her focused and cooperative.

“They knew to do that… because they have an intimate knowledge of what behavioral plans work with each child,” said Gale.

The individualized care at Easterseals has helped 3-year-old Donovan communicate more effectively and develop positive habits and social skills, his mother Sasha Bohannon told 24-Hour News 8.

“It was overwhelming before he started [working with care coordinators and specialists four times a week through an Easterseals program],” she said. “He was non-verbal and had behavioral issues [including] banging his head against the wall. He would get so frustrated because I couldn’t tell what he needed and he couldn’t tell me what he needed.”

Bohannon always knew Donovan “was just different,” she said, and felt relieved when Gale formally diagnosed him with autism spectrum disorder in 2016.

“I had an answer and an explanation… and could finally get my child what he needed,” said Bohannon. “I felt so overwhelmed before. I didn’t know what to do.”

The diagnosis also triggered a wave of emotions, she admitted, saying she “busted out crying” when Gale confirmed what she had suspected for years.

“But Donovan is still Donovan,” she said firmly. “Donovan will always be Donovan, whether he has autism or not.”

The playful, affectionate 3-year-old began speaking after enrolling at Easterseals and began communicating with his mother in full sentences after several months of coordinated care, Bohannon said.

“I just got him a doctor kit the other day and he [said to me], ‘Mommy, I’m gonna be a doctor!'” she recalled. “A year ago he wouldn’t have been able to say that. Now he knows what a stethoscope is and says, ‘Mommy, I’m gonna take your temperature!'”

The Easterseals pilot program is currently only open to Anthem members diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. Enrollment is expected to be limited to 50 people between the ages of 3 and 22, said Gale.

Easterseals offers other disability services to clients from birth through adulthood with Hoosier Healthwise, Health Indiana Plan and Hoosier Care Connect plans.

Details about local autism diagnostic services and behavior treatment programs can be found by clicking here.

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