The latest numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show an estimated 1.2 million U.S. children under the age of 21 have been diagnosed with autism.
Yet, less than half received developmental evaluations by age three. And, early intervention is critical in helping children progress.
"If you can get help, if you can get treatment, there's a big difference in the way your child adapts to life," said Dr. John Burruss, CEO of Metrocare Services in Dallas. "The sooner, the better. Like anything we deal with in healthcare, the earlier we get a handle on it, the better it's gonna go."
Kids as young as the age of two up to 12 and those from low-income families are served at the three centers operated by Metrocare Services in Dallas County. A Center for Children with Autism at Metrocare is in Dallas, North Dallas and DeSoto.
"We endeavor to serve anyone regardless of socio-economic status, their insurability or otherwise. So we're available to people, if they need us," Burruss said.
In 2015, 160 children got services. The goal in 2016 is 200. The centers strive for quality rather than quantity.
"It is a very intense service," Burruss said. "So the kids in the program get a lot of one-on-one and small group treatments. So, scale is small but impact is great for the kids."
Small groups and one-on-one attention are critical in changing a child's behavior and unlocking their potential. Metrocare relies on ABA, or Applied Behavioral Analysis, "a specific type of play to help create the engagement with another person and to help the verbal development the kid with autism spectrum disorder are often lacking," said Burruss.
"We have kids who come to us and have never said a word – kids (aged) 4, 5 and 6 who have literally never said a word to their family. And we can work with them, and with time and perseverance, they can become verbal. We have many children who have ended up speaking and engaging with their family for the first time ever," added Burruss.