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Parent says early autism screenings are important; SWFL resources exist

Golisano Children’s Hospital of Southwest Florida schedules free autism screenings throughout the year, a resource lots of parents don’t take advantage of.

We spoke to a Southwest Florida family who says early detection would have made a world of difference.

Amber Zollinger’s son Grayson is a happy and active 5-year-old who lives with autism.

“He loves to play with friends at playgroup, and he’s just a really smart kid and really fun to be around,” Zollinger said.

Zollinger told us she noticed some of the signs of autism early in Grayson.

“When my son was one and a half and he wasn’t speaking, I immediately put him in speech,” Zollinger said. “And probably the next two years was kind of a journey of, ‘We don’t know what’s happening.'”

But doctors did not diagnose Grayson until he was older.

There are ways for parents to get free early detection screenings in Lee County. For more than a decade, Golisano has offered free autism screenings. That’s one way for families in Southwest Florida to be proactive in our region.

Nurse practitioner Sherri Campbell, who’s been with the Golisano program since the beginning, says the screenings are critical.

“The research shows dramatic increases in the gains that children make when they get the services early,” Campbell said.

Campbell said the program is thriving and continues to see more families utilize it.

“We’re really busy already today,” Campbell said.

But, even now, it seems too many families still don’t know the early screening program even exists.

“I’ve been here since 2005, and, I have to admit, I’ve never heard of this program,” Zollinger said.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, parents should have a doctor screen their kids for autism between 18 and 24 months old, even if they don’t notice any symptoms.

Zollinger said it’s critical the word gets out. Because, now, autism is more common than childhood cancer and juvenile diabetes combined.

“We all need to work together to see these signs to help these children early because statistics say, the earlier you help them, the more that they can live a better life,” Zollinger said.

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Reporter:Veronica Marshall
Writer:Jack Lowenstein
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