The Help Group and St. John’s Well Child & Family Center Announce Pilot Program to Increase Autism Awareness and Early Identification Efforts in the Inner City

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The Help Group and St. Johns’ Well Child and Family Center hosted their 1st Annual Inner City Autism Awareness Breakfast attended by community leaders and local clinic practitioners in observance of National Autism Awareness Month.

The Help Group and St. Johns’ Well Child and Family Center hosted their 1st Annual Inner City Autism Awareness Breakfast attended by community leaders and local clinic practitioners in observance of National Autism Awareness Month. The Help Group President and CEO Dr. Barbara Firestone and St. John’s Well Child and Family Center CEO Jim Mangia also announced the launch of a new pilot program to increase autism awareness and early detection of autism and other developmental disorders affecting children 18 months to 5 years of age living in Los Angeles’ inner city. This partnership capitalizes the expertise of both agencies: The Help Group’s more than 30 years serving children with autism and other special needs with St. John’s Well Child and Family Center’s six inner city clinic sites serving the medical, dental and mental health needs of more than 80,000 patients annually.

Assemblymember Mark Ridley-Thomas, 48th District, was the keynote speaker at today’s event. His long-time commitment to the underserved populations of Los Angeles set the tone and urgency for the launch of the pilot program.

“The goal of The Help Group/St. John’s program is to promote community awareness and to detect the early warning signs of autism spectrum disorders and other developmental disabilities as soon as possible for this underserved population of young children,” said Firestone. “Early detection and early intervention can result in significant positive outcomes giving the children the opportunity to maximize their potential.”    

The new program, expected to begin in late Spring 2006, will train primary health care providers at St. John’s six clinics and St. John’s community health care educators, called promotores, to use a standardized screening test that identifies possible developmental delays in children from birth to age five.

Dr. Laurie Stephens, Director of The Help Group’s Autism Spectrum Disorders Program and Dr. Linda Tigner-Weekes, Medical Director at St. John’s will oversee the program.

The Help Group has already provided St. John’s with bilingual educational materials for professionals and parents, including early warning signs of autism spectrum disorders (ASD) and learning disabilities. In the past year, St. John’s distributed The Help Group’s early warning signs of ASD to their health care professionals, who found this tool to be very useful in recognizing the warning signs and, as a result, more children were referred for evaluation. In addition, The Help Group’s PSA’s in Spanish featuring Edward James Olmos will be made available to community clinics and other interested agencies.

“This is an important opportunity to screen children in clinical settings and throughout the community,” said Mangia. “We look forward to our ongoing collaboration with The Help Group to bring these critically needed services to our inner city communities. Far too many children have slipped between the cracks for far too long.”

The public may access more information about this pilot program and other services through Nomsa Kalfani at St.John’s at (323) 541-1660 or Althea Abaqueta at The Help Group (818) 779-5119 or at http://www.thehelpgroup.org.

ABOUT THE HELP GROUP. For 30 years, The Help Group Has been serving children with special needs related to Autism, Asperger’s disorder, learning disabilities, attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, mental retardation, abuse and emotional problems. The Help Group is one of the largest, most innovative and comprehensive organizations of its kind in the United States. The Help Group’s six specialized day schools offer pre-K through high school programs for more than 1,100 students. The Help Group’s wide range of mental health and therapy services, child abuse, foster family, and residential programs extend its reach to more than 5,000 children and their families each year. With over 700 staff members, The Help Group’s state-of-the-art schools and programs are located on four major campuses in the Los Angeles area. Through its professional training programs and efforts at the state and national levels, The Help Group touches the lives of children with special needs across the country and in other parts of the world.

ABOUT ST. JOHN’S WELL CHILD & FAMILY CENTER. For 40 years, St. John’s Well Child and Family Center has provided uninterrupted medical, dental and mental health services to the Los Angeles community, serving over 80,000 patients annually. St. John’s operates six sites in downtown, south central and east Los Angeles and has developed a School Readiness Child and Family Resource and Development Center in one of LA’s poorest communities. St. John’s Well Child and Family Center provides a broad continuum of care to patients by successfully building a network of nonprofit organizations and hospitals that serve to ensure our community’s total health.

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Deborah Smith Roges
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