MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - Since 2000, the number of children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder has more than doubled, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
Faulkner University is working to change those numbers and has announced plans to create an autism center on campus in 2019. Two of David and Zavie George's eight children are on autism spectrum.
"It is very overwhelming. As a parent your first thoughts are kind of like what do I do now," said David and Zavie George.
They say the biggest challenge on their journey was finding the resources in Montgomery to help their children.
"There are very long waiting list, it is limited services, and for a long time insurance didn't cover a lot of things," said Zavie George.
They've not let that stop them.
"For a number of years we actually drove to Franklin, Tennessee quarterly," said David George.
"We see autism really escalating at epidemic rates," said Mike Williams, Faulkner University President.
As the father of an autistic son, Faulkner University President Mike Williams is invested in spreading awareness.
"We have walked this path before and we realize the power of pulling together professionals," said Williams.
Faulkner is partnering with Texas Tech University's Burkhart Center for Autism Education and Research to help establish a similar center on its campus.
Burkhart is a life-span center and serves nearly 100 clients per month. Their mission is to increase the quality of life for individuals with autism and their families by providing services, preparing educators, and conducting research and offers several services based on the principles of Applied Behavior Analysis. These services include Focused ABA, social skills classes, and contract consultations.
"It is a game changer," said Williams.
This center would be the first of its kind in the River Region. The nearest comprehensive autism treatment center to Montgomery is more than 100 miles away.
"It might as well be a 30 foot story building to climb over. It is impossible for many residents that have the financial resources to dedicate and time is a factor," said Williams.
Parents like David and Zavie are excited about this becoming an option.
"It would be something we would probably take advantage of," said David George.
To support this center Faulkner is introducing new Master's and doctoral programs in speech-language pathology and physical therapy beginning next fall and the coming year. Williams says there is an alarming need for those in this field here in Montgomery.