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Beyond the Diagnosis: HH Health, The Arc Help Kids Connect the Dots

December 11, 2023 | Reading Time: 3 minutes
Meleah looks at a play tea set

Sporting a pink camouflaged outfit and pigtails, an extraordinary girl named Meleah recently walked through the welcoming doors of The Early Childhood Program at The Arc of Madison County.

She didn’t know she was about to celebrate her third birthday as well as cross another important milestone in her life. Meleah, who is autistic, also marked nearly one year since receiving in-home Early Intervention services from The Arc.

In the midst of her birthday joy, Meleah and her family reflected on how far she’s come. Once a 26-month-old who couldn’t speak, feed herself or focus for more than a few seconds, Meleah can now say some words, eat with utensils and engage in activities for longer periods with her mother, Ashley, and 7-year-old brother, Melvin.

Though autism is a lifelong condition, early diagnosis and evidence-based interventions can significantly improve quality of life for children with the disorder as well as their caregivers and families. Meleah’s third birthday and anniversary with The Arc symbolized a critical moment in her family’s lives.

“I never thought we would be here,” said Ashley, with tears in her eyes. “To see my daughter improve so much in such a short time with help from Huntsville Hospital and The Arc means the world to my family and me.”

Meeting a need

Thanks to a partnership between Huntsville Hospital’s Community Health Initiative (CHI) and The Arc, children like Meleah are receiving crucial autism diagnostic and support services through The Arc’s Autism Clinic.

The Arc is a $100,000 grant recipient of CHI, which provides funds to local agencies that address priority health issues. Since its inception, Huntsville Hospital has awarded more than $13 million to 52 area health-focused not-for-profit agencies.

The Autism Clinic is a new project of The Arc that waives the cost of autism testing and diagnosis for children who are on Medicaid and/or in low-income households. The grant from CHI helps pay for staff to administer autism screening tests, resources and the cost of an interpreter for non-English speaking families.

Funds also allow The Arc to train more staff to administer diagnostic evaluations to increase its capacity to serve eligible children ages 2-5 in Madison County.

Susan Klingel, executive director of The Arc, said the new Autism Clinic helps fill a significant gap for families seeking autism diagnosis. Previously, many local families had to travel to Birmingham, Nashville or Chattanooga to receive a formal diagnosis, the first step in receiving autism services.

“This program opens a door for them, and especially children like Meleah, whose mom doesn’t have a car herself and would not have been able to drive that far,” Klingel said. “Meleah is now getting lots of different kinds of support for her autism just like many of the families we serve.”

Community Health Initiative Project Coordinator John Simms, right, has a pretend tea party with Meleah, a 3-year-old who receives autism support services from The Arc.
Changing lives

After a therapy session with Christine Foster, an autism specialist with The Arc, Meleah poured imaginary tea into her new Minnie Mouse cups while surrounded by loved ones and her care team. She hugged her new stuffed elephant and donned a birthday tiara and wand to mark the occasion.

Meleah’s supporters marveled at her development as the celebration unfolded, reflecting on the progress she’s made and the voyage to follow.

Michelle Creekmore, a program coordinator with The Arc, hopes the services supported by Huntsville Hospital will continue to make a difference in the lives of Meleah and other children with developmental disabilities.

“Because of the Community Health Initiative, we’re going to test a little over 100 children over the next year who would not have been able to receive those services before,” she said. “That is huge.”

To learn more about Huntsville Hospital’s Community Health Initiative, visit our website. Click here for more details about The Arc’s Autism Clinic.