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Detecting autism earlier

CMU students part of $2.2 million effort to train professionals in diagnosis and treatment

Contact: Dan Digmann


​Two Central Michigan University doctoral students are taking steps to encourage early detection, diagnosis and treatment of autism and other disabilities with the help of a grant that pulls together professionals from many disciplines. Autism spectrum disorder is the fastest-growing developmental disability in the U.S., affecting approximately one in 68 children, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Hannah Borton, a second-year audiology student from Coshocton, Ohio, and Mike Palmer, a fifth-year applied experimental psychology student from Alma, Michigan, are among the nine-member cohort of statewide students participating in training that encourages collaboration between medical professionals in identifying and treating such conditions.

"The earlier you can diagnose the condition, the sooner you can start treating it," Borton said. "This is why we want to work with people from other disciplines so we can help each other determine the diagnosis as quickly and accurately as possible."

The training is provided through a $2.2 million, five-year grant awarded by the Maternal and Child Health Bureau of the Health Resources and Services Administration for the Michigan-Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental and Other Related Disabilities Training Program, or MI-LEND. It addresses the complex needs of individuals with autism and other disabilities by increasing the training of medical, doctoral and postdoctoral students to identify the conditions and determine treatment options.

"This is a great opportunity for CMU to integrate training services and expand to new areas," said Carl Johnson, the experimental psychology professor who helped secure a place for CMU in the grant. "There are a lot of treatments for autism; we just want to get the children diagnosed sooner so we can make their lives better."

Through a series of weekly webinars and monthly in-person training sessions, MI-LEND participants share their clinical experiences and provide respective insights to collaborate in recommending disease diagnoses and treatment options. As they move forward with their training, Palmer works closely with his mentor, CMU psychology faculty member Christie Nutkins, and Borton collaborates with her mentor, audiology faculty member Carissa Moeggenberg.

CMU already is actively working through its programs and special centers to train students to diagnose and treat autism and related disorders. As an audiology student, Borton sees and helps treat patients through CMU's Carls Center. Similarly, Palmer sees and helps treat patients through CMU's Central Autism Assessment and Treatment Center.

2017-036-01 CAAT autism Michael Palmer sj.JPGPalmer said learning to collaborate across various disciplines is helping him to view patient conditions beyond the perspective of a psychologist, which in turn provides more comprehensive treatment options for his patients.

"That kind of collaboration can help each professional provide better services, but also can make the individuals receiving the services feel like they are receiving a cohesive treatment rather than one professional telling them one thing and the next something else," Palmer said. "At the very minimum, this kind of training allows us as service providers to be able to let the people we serve know that those other services are out there and what they could do for them."

Other participating universities are Wayne State University, Michigan State University, University of Michigan–Ann Arbor, University of Michigan–Dearborn and Western Michigan University. This is the first LEND-related grant Michigan has received, Johnson said.

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