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CHOA raising funds for autism tool

Machine could help make early determinations

POSTED: March 14, 2013 12:27 a.m.
Crystal Ledford/

Representatives of Citizens Bank of Forsyth County present a $10,000 donation to Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta at Forsyth on Monday for a new autism screening device. From left are, Paula Gault and Judi Jenkins, Children’s board members; Beth Buursema, Children’s manager of community outreach; Jimmy Myers, chairman of the Citizens’ board of directors; Mary Helen McGruder, Children’s board member; and Tim Perry, Citizens’ president.

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Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta at Forsyth hopes to secure a new machine that could help determine early autism in children.

Fundraising has begun to help the facility, which opened in June 2011 at The Avenue-Forsyth, secure $250,000 for one of several prototypes.

The device was developed by Dr. Ami Klin, director of the Marcus Autism Center in Atlanta, and his research team.

According to information from Children’s, the device uses cameras that focus on a child’s eyes. Short videos and images are shown to the child, and when his eyes move, the cameras can tell what part of the scene the child is watching.

The hospital states most children focus on people’s eyes and faces, but infants at risk for autism tend to focus on objects and movements more than typical infants.

By detecting these risk factors at an early age, it is hoped the device can be used to catch autism spectrum disorders at the earliest possible development stages to then begin interventions.

Beth Buursema, manager of community outreach at the local Children’s facility, said donations have already begun coming in.

On Monday, representatives of Citizens Bank of Forsyth County presented a $10,000 check for the project.

Jimmy Myers, chairman of the bank’s board of directors, said the gift was presented in honor of Tim Perry, president and CEO of the bank, who also serves on the Children’s board of directors.

“We felt it would be a good thing for us as a bank to name this donation in his name because of all the work he’s done in helping our bank and what he’s doing down here [at Children’s],” Myers said.

Myers, who is also a trustee with the Benjamin F. Brady Charitable Foundation, said that organization also recently donated $10,000.

Additionally, Buursema said, many Forsyth County schools have already made contributions to the project.

Paula Gault, a Children’s board member and former Forsyth County Schools superintendent, said the project is something the system should support since it serves special needs students.

“When children can be identified early with autism, it can make a tremendous difference in their lives,” she said. “The earlier they’re identified, the better, and that will be positive for the school system as well as those children because [the system] can serve them and identify their specific needs at an earlier age.”

Buursema said the project has raised about $70,000.

Since part of the funding for the project will come from Federal Drug Administration grant money, Buursema said the local office needs to raise at least $100,000 by the end of April and $250,000 by the end of the year.

Through the FDA funding, a total of seven of the machines will be placed at sites throughout Georgia and Alabama.

Since the device is still a prototype, it has not yet received full approval from the FDA. Therefore, Buursema said, the screening services would be provided at no cost.

“It’s not a billable service, so everything will be free for the community,” she said.

Buursema said detecting autism at earlier ages is of growing importance since more and more children are diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders.

“It’s one in 98 in the nation and one in 88 in Georgia,” she said. “And more boys than girls are diagnosed.”

Judi Jenkins, a Children’s board member who works as the business and community relations facilitator of the school system, said if the funding is raised, it would be a “win-win.”

“The community, taxpayers, the kids, the families, the school system — everybody is a winner if we can identify those kids early,” she said.

 

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