A decade ago, about one of every 150 children was diagnosed with autism, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Eight years later, that number was about one of every 88 children.
The rise in autism rates means support services for people with autism and their families are more critically needed now, said Barbara Burch, Western Kentucky University’s provost emeritus and chairwoman of the board of directors for the university’s Clinical Education Complex, which is home to the Kelly Autism Program.
The program helps people in the community with autism throughout their lives. It’s just one of the many resources provided by WKU that are also available to community members.
Here is a guide to services WKU offers to the community:
The Clinical Education Complex
The Suzanne Vitale Clinical Education Complex offers six services to the community: the Kelly Autism Program, the Communications Disorder Clinic, the Early Childhood Center, the Family Resource Program, the Acquired Brain Injury Resource Program and the Talley Family Counseling Center.
The CEC is rare, as most universities don’t have anything like it, Burch said.
The CEC was started more than six years ago, Burch said.
At the time, she said, there was a relatively small autism program serving the community.
“A number of members of the community felt like it needed to be more and proposed the university expand the program,” Burch said.
Most of the money to create the CEC came from contributions by community members, and a big part of its purpose is to serve the community, she said.
“It’s also about providing learning opportunities for students and research opportunities for our faculty,” Burch said.
Six major needs of the community are integrated together at the CEC, and all but the counseling center are housed in one building at 104 E. 14th Ave.
“We wanted to be a one-stop shop for families that need help,” Burch said.
The Kelly Autism Program provides help for people with autism throughout their life, she said. The original program had no option for people with autism once they left high school, but now the program has helped more than 60 of them enroll at WKU, and many of them will complete a degree.
The Communications Disorder Clinic is set up to help people with disorders relating to language, articulation, voice and hearing, said Shannon Sales, intake coordinator for the CEC.
“The majority are children, but they do assist adults,” Sales said.
The Early Childhood Center is for children of all abilities from birth through kindergarten to work on their motor, sensory, cognitive, communication and social skills, she said.
Often, the Early Childhood Center and the Communications Disorder Clinic collaborate to help a child, Sales said.
“While Communication Disorders is (focused on) just speaking, ECC does behavior and movement,” she said.
The Family Resource Program serves as a directory for resources in the community, guiding families to services they need, whether they need help getting basic necessities or a specific support service, Sales said.
The Acquired Brain Injury Resource Program helps individuals who have suffered a brain injury return to school or other activities, she said.
The cost of services at the CEC varies, but all the programs are willing to work with families who may not be able to pay, Sales said.
She said it’s amazing watching the CEC meet the needs of people from childhood to adulthood.
“The progression made is really unique to see,” Sales said.
The Talley Family Counseling Center
The only service provided by the Clinical Education Complex not housed at the building on 14th Avenue, the Talley Family Counseling Center provides free counseling to anyone – individuals of all ages, couples and families.
The counseling center is a place for anyone struggling with an issue he or she would like help dealing with, such as stress, depression and any kind of relationship conflict, Director Corrine Sackett said.
Graduate students pursuing master’s degrees in either clinical and mental health or marriage and family therapy serve as the counselors, under the supervision of Sackett, who has a Ph.D. and is a licensed marriage and family therapist, she said.
“Students get a really unique opportunity here,” Sackett said.
The students have already finished most of their course work, and working at the counseling center counts as their practicum and internship during their last two semesters, she said.
Though the counseling center has been around for a few years, recently there have been some changes, including moving into Gary Ransdell Hall and changing the name from “clinic” to “center,” Sackett said.
“It’s more welcoming than (the name) ‘clinic,’ ” she said.
The name “center” evokes wellness, which is what Sackett wants to focus on, rather than the pathological name ‘clinic,’ she said.
Sackett is hoping the changes will make the counseling center more effective and bring more people in.
“It just wasn’t being utilized to the capacity it could be,” she said.
There’s a huge need in the community for a free counseling service, because private practices charge about $100 per hour and not everyone can afford that, Sackett said. She’s been working to get the word out in the community about the counseling center.
“The more clients we get in, that clearly means we’re serving the community better, but it’s also a better experience for our students,” Sackett said.
The stigma of talking to a counselor still exists, so the counseling center focuses on promoting wellness, she said.
“There is nothing wrong with you (if you talk to a counselor),” Sackett said. “It’s a good way to take care of yourself before struggles get out of hand.”
The counseling center offers limited hours in the summer, but she hopes it grows to the point where it can have consistent hours all year round, she said.
“I think it’s neat for the community to be a part of training these professionals,” Sackett said. “In a way, they’re giving back.”
The Dental Hygiene Clinic and Mobile Health Units
WKU has a dental hygiene clinic housed in the Academic Complex, where students in the university’s two-year dental hygiene program work under the supervision of faculty members.
The clinic can perform preventative dental services, such as teeth cleanings and X-rays, but they can’t do procedures such as fillings, said Lynn Austin, head of the department of allied health, which the dental hygiene program is part of.
“We’re not meant to be their primary care provider,” Austin said. If a patient requires something beyond the scope of the clinic, the staff will refer the patient to a dentist or other professional who can help.
The clinic’s mission is to educate students, Austin said. Those in WKU’s dental hygiene program are required to work there during both years of the program.
“It’s a win-win for the students and the community,” Austin said of the clinic. Students get the experience they need, while the community can get dental exams for a low cost, she said. It costs $15 for students and $20 for faculty members or the community at large. Patients can also use their dental insurance at the clinic.
Appointments are available at WKU’s dental clinic during the fall and spring semesters. Austin recommends scheduling an appointment at the beginning of each semester, because students fill out the schedule early, she said.
Some dental hygiene students also work on a mobile dental unit run by WKU’s Institute for Rural Health Development and Research.
The mobile dental unit has a dentist on board and primarily travels to schools to provide sealants to students, said Chandra Ellis-Griffith, a registered nurse for the IRHDR.
The dental unit is one of the IRHDR’s two mobile units that provide health services in the Barren River Area Development District, Ellis-Griffith said. The other travels with a nurse, who gives free health screenings for cholesterol, diabetes, blood pressure and bone density.
The mobile units travel by request and are usually out in the region two to five days a week, Ellis-Griffith said.
“Access to care can be an issue for some people, so by us being mobile, it allows us to make services more accessible to people,” she said.
The ALIVE Center
The ALIVE Center for Community Partnerships was created with the mission of connecting WKU with the community, and the services offered through the center are all partnerships between the university and the community, said Aurelia Spaulding, communications and marketing coordinator for the center.
“WKU is a part of this community,” Spaulding said. “By having the ALIVE Center here, it allows a direct link connecting the campus with the local community.”
The center was started in 2003 and has been part of WKU since 2006, she said. ALIVE stands for “A Local Information and Volunteer Exchange.”
“We wanted to create a place for volunteerism and community information,” Spaulding said.
The center is important for the university because it helps students become socially responsible and build a relationship with the community, she said.
“The ALIVE Center shows the university’s commitment to working together to build our community,” Spaulding said.
One purpose of the center is to create a network of agencies, schools, nonprofits and individuals who join together to tackle the needs of the community, she said. The center was tasked with focusing on four areas: education, economic development, nurturing the community and healthy living.
The center is also a hub of information about resources and volunteer opportunities available on campus and in the community, Spaulding said. People can visit the center to get information about places to volunteer as well as where to go to receive assistance getting food, clothing, transportation and shelter.
The center is also building up its multicultural services that will help refugees and other community members who don’t speak English, said Nadia De Leon, community engagement coordinator for the center.
“Those communities have a lot of particular needs, but not a lot of resources,” De Leon said.
The center has a program that helps refugees get a driver’s license and a GED class for Spanish speakers, she said. It is also working to make interpreters available and offer a series of workshops that teach basic life skills to refugees.
“Our goal is to meet the needs of all community members and integrate everyone and get them to interact with each other,” De Leon said. “I think we have a lot to learn from each other.”
Contact information for some of the services available to the community through Western Kentucky University:
•To find out more about any of the services offered at the Suzanne Vitale Clinical Education Complex at 104 E. 14th Ave., call 745-4232 or visit www.wku.edu/wkucec.
•For more information or to schedule an appointment at the Talley Family Counseling Center, located on the first floor of Gary Ransdell Hall, call 745-4204 or visit www.wku.edu/talleycounseling.
Summer hours for the counseling center are noon to 7 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday. When WKU’s fall semester begins Aug. 29, the counseling center will be open from noon to 7 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday and from 1 p.m. to 7 p.m. Thursday.
•To schedule an appointment or to find out more about the Dental Hygiene Clinic at 221 Academic Complex, call 745- 2426 or visit www.wku.edu/ dentalhygiene/aboutdhclinic.php.
•For more information about the Institute for Rural Health Development and Research or the mobile health units, call 745-6948 or visit www. wku.edu/irhdr.
•To find out more about the ALIVE Center for Community Partnerships at 1818 U.S. 31-W By-Pass, call 782-0082 or visit www.wku.edu/alive.