There’s a new resource in south Alabama for the families of children with a pediatric autism diagnosis.

Published Jan 13th, 2020

By Casandra Andrews
candrews@health.southalabama.edu 

There’s a new resource in south Alabama for the families of children with a pediatric autism diagnosis.

Dana Handmacher, an autism family navigator, is now assisting parents and caregivers of children with autism. The mother of four, Handmacher has a teenage son who was diagnosed with autism at an early age.

“Having a child with autism comes with great challenges,” Handmacher said. “Often for families, the future is worrisome and full of unknowns. Not only does USARAN provide guidance and resources to individual families but it also helps to build resources and provide awareness in our greater community through educational programs and collaborations with other local organizations and service providers.”

The USA Regional Autism Network is making a real difference for families and improving life in south Alabama for those affected by autism, Handmacher said.

“Besides formal education, Dana has life experience that enables her to more fully help families just beginning their journey,” said Amy Mitchell, MS CCCSLP, director of the USA Regional Autism Network. “She can personally relate to the families she will serve, listening and giving advice if that’s what they need.”

Handmacher will be available to assist caregivers with planning and problem-solving, and provide other guidance, such as directing parents to educational opportunities and encouraging their self-advocacy skills.

“Dana’s passion for helping families and improving our community is evident,” Mitchell said. “Her understanding of the challenges and joys of caring for a loved one with autism will greatly enhance the ability of our regional network to serve families.”

Handmacher earned a bachelor degree in social work and a master’s degree in elementary education. She has served as the chairperson of the USARAN Constituency Board for more than tw0 years, and has been an active advocate for those with autism.

Handmacher can be contacted at 251-644-4946 or by email at dhandmacher@health.southalabama.edu Her position is part time and funded through a grant for the USA Regional Autism Network.

“We specifically want to focus on people with a new diagnosis or someone who has a child and is in the process of seeking a diagnosis, which can take as long as a year for a final determination,” Mitchell said. “Early intervention is key and Dana can tell families about the resources available in our area.”

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a common neurodevelopmental disorder that impacts 1 in 59 children in the United States, as many as 5 million total, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). It’s characterized by social and communication impairment and restricted or repetitive behaviors. The care needs of children with ASD are significant, affect parents and siblings, and require substantial community resources, Mitchell said.

Direct and indirect costs of caring for children and adults with ASD in the U.S. in 2015 were estimated to be $268 billion, more than the cost of stroke and hypertension combined, noted the AAP. Today, most children are screened for autism at 18 and 24 months of age by a pediatrician or health care provider, with ongoing developmental surveillance recommended in the primary care setting.

The University of South Alabama Regional Autism Network was established by legislative action, under the direction of the Alabama Interagency Autism Coordinating Council (AIACC). The University of South Alabama, along with Auburn University, the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), the University of Alabama at Huntsville (UAH) and the University of Alabama, is charged with providing resources and training for state residents of any age who have autism spectrum disorder.

The USA Regional Autism Network serves residents in Baldwin, Clarke, Conecuh, Dallas, Escambia, Mobile, Monroe, Perry, Washington and Wilcox counties who have questions, concerns or resource needs for themselves, a family member, friend, client, patient or student with diagnosed or suspected autism spectrum disorder.

For more information, contact the Regional Autism Network by phone at 251-410-4533or by email at USARAN@health.southalabama.edu.

The USA Regional Autism Network provides the community with general information about autism spectrum disorder and can guide callers to resources available to meet individualized needs. To learn more, visit: https://www.usahealthsystem.com/services/usa-regional-autism-network.

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