The signs that Blaine Davis wasn't quite like other toddlers came early. Even more than the fact that he didn't play well with others, he lacked the skill to point to what he wanted. That inability to express his wants and needs meant that he would follow his mother around and cry in frustration. "He was in his own world,” said his mother, Jennifer Davis. "He had no way of communicating with us and he would try to communicate by crying and pushing and shoving, not in a mean way, but trying to show us what he wanted.” But Oklahoma's Early Foundations researchers identified Blaine's autism-type behaviors and got him started in an early intervention program that Steve Davis said has generated unbelievable progress in his son. One day after Blaine attended the playgroup at a local church, the teachers said he'd told teacher Seth Kastner that he loved him. "I'd only heard him say, 'I love you,' one other time, that was to me,” Steve Davis said. "Being a parent of a 3-year-old child and not hearing 'I love you' is incredibly difficult.” Now, Blaine has learned to point, use sign language and even allows his parents to touch him. The University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center's pilot project is designed to identify the autism spectrum disorders in toddlers like Blaine. Like Blaine, one in every 110 children has been diagnosed with the disorders, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Researchers found that autism is being reported at higher rates than ever before. "It's a pretty significant increase in the last 10 years,” Bonnie McBride, principal investigator for the Early Foundations Project, said during a news conference Wednesday at the center. Though children are often 2 years old by the time their autism is identified, she said the earlier an autistic child is diagnosed the better the outcome.
About the programThe Autism Workforce Initiative is Oklahoma's response to the needs of children, their families and pediatricians. The initiative features components such as a physician training program, along with the early intervention program for young children suspected of having an autism spectrum disorder. Children enrolled in the program receive 17 hours per week of help through activities such as play groups, intensive teaching involving behavioral techniques, weekly home visits and monthly parent education nights. "It's awesome. It's changed our lives, it really has,” Steve Davis said. Services are provided through Oklahoma's Early Intervention system and the model site serving roughly 10 families in Oklahoma City is funded using federal dollars through the state Department of Education. Along with developing an intervention model through its pilot site in Oklahoma City, the project is intended to provide outreach support to other communities statewide. The project also is operating in Cleveland and Canadian counties. The program is offered free to families of all income levels through SoonerStart, the state's early intervention program for infants and toddlers with disabilities and developmental delays. For more information on the SoonerStart program, call 522-5167 or go to www.okdhs.org/programs andservices/dd/ss.