Bennett Leventhal, MD, Director, The Autism Program, IJR
For families of children with mental health disorders, navigating the mental health system can be bewildering and frightening. For parents of autistic children, this confusion is exacerbated by conflicting information and a gap in service.
The Autism Program (TAP) spearheaded by IJR's Bennett Leventhal, MD, a renowned child psychiatrist and expert on autism, is filling that gap, uniting practitioners, informing parents, and changing policy for this underserved group of children. "The gap in services is gigantic," says Leventhal. There's nothing for many of these kids and their families. I've come to a point in my career where I want to focus on changing systems."
TAP, the first program of its kind nationwide, currently has 17 sites in Illinois and is rapidly becoming a statewide network for training, resources, and information on and about autism for families, practitioners, and all who are touched by the disorder. It is developing teleconferencing resources to train practitioners in regions with few autism experts. It is developing training resources for teachers and others in the school system.
It is developing a network of primary care doctor referrals for families. TAP is also working to change policy, such as improving health care coverage for mental health services and advocating for a reimbursement system for behavioral specialists working in schools. Through all its efforts, TAP exemplifies IJR's approach of linking strong scientists and innovative services to frontline suppliers.
"I don't think there are many places in the world that bring the resources to the table that we do," says Leventhal. "There's a lot of misinformation about autism out there: Don't vaccinate your kids, do this, do that. It's very scary for parents. They're grasping at straws. They feel totally alone. The TAP programs will offer them a place to both find support and become informed advocates for their children."