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How Marcus Autism Center is transforming lives today and for the future

Three-year-old Nigel Odom, who has autism, has become known as "the mayor of preschool" at Marcus Autism Center.

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Three-year-old Nigel Odom, who has autism, has become known as "the mayor of preschool" at Marcus Autism Center.

For children and families affected by autism, connecting with Marcus Autism Center in Atlanta can be life-changing. Whether it's the services provided or the staff's undying support, the Center makes a difference today and is also working to improve the lives of children with autism in the future.

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The non-profit clinical and research center serves as a comprehensive resource for children with autism and their families, helping them navigate a path to help children thrive. It offers diagnostic services as well as treatment and support, and features a language and learning center, feeding program and preschool that gives kids the chance to learn and interact with other children in an autism-friendly environment. The Center also offers services for Spanish-speaking families and a social skills group for kids age 7 and up.

"We're focused on servicing the kids who can't easily access support in the community," Dr. Cheryl Klaiman, the program director of assessment and diagnostic services, said.

» RELATED: Atlanta resources for those on the autism spectrum

Located on Briarcliff Road, the Center has grown over the years to become one of the nation's largest clinical centers for pediatric autism. It became a subsidiary of Children's Healthcare of Atlanta in 2008 and also collaborates with Emory University.

Dr. Klaiman encourages parents who think their child may have autism to access the provider referral form at marcus.org. This will help kickstart the process of receiving a diagnosis and, if autism is present, will help children access the services necessary to reach their full potential.

"The earlier the child gets diagnosed, the better the outcome is," Klaiman said. Parents often notice potential signs of autism when their child is about 2 years of age, yet the average age of diagnosis is 4. With an earlier diagnosis, children could start getting the intervention they need sooner rather than later.

Early signs of autism may involve losing learned skills or struggling to learn new skills, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Symptoms include delayed speech and language skills, avoiding eye contact, preferring to play alone and getting upset over minor changes. Although these may be possible symptoms of autism, they may also be unrelated. That's one reason why it's important to receive a diagnosis.

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For clinical services, the Center accepts private insurance as well as Medicaid. Research studies offer another opportunity for parents to receive feedback about their child from clinicians and researchers. In addition to helping further research, participating in a study can sometimes help children get in the door a little faster, Dr. Klaiman said.

For example, since autism has a genetic factor, siblings of children who have autism may qualify for a study that will provide monitoring even before birth.

In addition to the Center’s ongoing work on behalf of children with autism and their families, it’s also continuously working to raise awareness about autism and intervention.

The organization recently launched a photography project called "Likely Friendships," which highlighted the close relationships students have formed since participating in the Center's programs. The project has received national attention and features children such as Nigel Odom, who found socializing to be challenging before starting the Center's Preschool Program and is now so outgoing he's considered "the mayor of preschool."

For more information about Marcus Autism Center and its services, mission and more, visit https://www.marcus.org/.

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