Dr. Felissa Goldstein, child and adolescent psychiatrist at the Marcus Autism Center, conducts an autism workshop at Phoebe Northwest on Thursday. Officials say motivation to arrange the workshop was sparked by an increased interest in the topic, in part due to a shortage of pediatric specialists in the area. (Staff Photo: Jennifer Parks)
ALBANY — In response to a need, a pediatric psychiatrist from Atlanta was in Albany Thursday to help increase awareness regarding the symptoms and treatment options of autism spectrum disorders through a workshop conducted at Phoebe Northwest.
The workshop featured Dr. Felissa Goldstein, child and adolescent psychiatrist with the Marcus Autism Center — which is now associated with Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta.
“Sue (Rowland, information specialist for Babies Can’t Wait for the Southwest Public Health District) contacted me to do the workshop for parents, teachers and other providers,” Goldstein said. “We want to teach people what to look for and how to help them.”
Thursday’s event was part of an effort from the Babies Can’t Wait program to bring in two educational workshops over the course of a year relating to developmental disabilities in children.
“We discovered several years ago that anyone (in contact with) children with developmental disabilities needs workshops because of the lack of specialists in the area,” Rowland said. “(With) the rise in ASD (autism spectrum disorders) there is such a huge need; it is the most requested. (For Thursday’s workshop) there were 100 registered, and we had to start a waiting list; it was such a huge response.”
This is the second workshop Goldstein has done in the southern part of Georgia. She also makes monthly visits to Albany for clinics she conducts in the Easter Seals Southern Georgia facility so that Southwest Georgia families do not have to go through the emotional or logistical burden of traveling to Atlanta. As part of a need to make up for a shortage of pediatric specialists in certain areas of the state — including Southwest Georgia — Goldstein is also actively involved in telemedicine efforts so that she can offer consultations to patients throughout Georgia from her office in Atlanta, something she plans to expand to Albany starting next month.
All of this is to help meet what officials describe as a growing need for autism spectrum disorder services, in part because parents and guardians have become more aware of what signs to look for.
“There is an increasing number of children with developmental disabilities, so there is an increased need for services,” Goldstein said. “There are still a lot of parents who have known something was wrong with their child since they were 6 months old, and they have been told by (their doctors) that they will grow out of it.
“(Autism spectrum disorders) are becoming more prevalent. I’m booked out until February, and there is a constant need for more services … my perception is that I cannot get (to) all the services children need.”
Rowland said the trend she has seen regarding increased awareness has been similar.
“We are seeing more parents who suspect their children have a form of a spectrum disorder,” she said. “It is very scary for them. The earlier they are diagnosed, the earlier they can be treated.”
Information available from the Marcus Autism Center shows that the average age for an autism diagnosis is 4 1/2 years, by which time most children are expected to be able to have basic verbal skills, show affection without being prompted and play cooperatively with others.
Rowland said about one out of six parents she speaks with either suspect or know they have a child with an autism spectrum disorder.
“I hope they are educated about the signs and diagnosis and treatment options,” she said when asked what she hoped attendees would get out of the workshop.
The main take-away Goldstein said she hoped parents and providers would leave with Thursday is to know when to fight for the services they feel their children need.
“If (parents) feel something is wrong, they need to keep advocating and keep seeking help,” she said.
Those seeking information on future workshops sponsored by Babies Can’t Wait are encouraged to contact Rowland at firstname.lastname@example.org.