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Voices of Hope: Armstrong leads autism community support, outreach

(September 1, 2015) Lakesha Lewis, a behavior therapist and Master of Public Health candidate at Armstrong, has been making waves within coastal Georgia’s autism support network since moving to Savannah from Los Angeles five years ago.

As an Armstrong undergraduate pursuing a B.S. in psychology, Lakesha founded Armstrong’s collegiate chapter of Autism Speaks, which became the first in the state of Georgia.  Autism Speaks is the world’s leading autism science and advocacy organization, dedicated to funding research into the causes, prevention, treatments and a cure for autism. In Georgia, one in 64 children is affected by autism spectrum disorder, a developmental disability flagged by social and communication problems.

“I saw there was something lacking in Savannah,” Lakesha says. “A lot of people didn’t understand autism. The first step was to raise awareness.”

In 2012, she organized the inaugural Walk for Autism, including educational activities and a resource fair for parents. All raised funds are donated to the national Autism Speaks office, which directs the awards towards research. The fourth annual Walk for Autism event is already lined up for spring 2016.

Armstrong’s RiteCare Center for Communication Disorders, which has been providing diagnostic evaluations and treatments of speech and language disorders for more than a decade, serves as another important resource for Savannah’s growing autism network.

“As speech-language pathologists, we are integral members of diagnostic teams who provide assessment, diagnosis, and treatment of individuals diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder,” notes Maya Clark, an associate professor and Director of the Communication Disorders program. “We evaluate difficulties in the areas of speech and language, social communication, cognitive skills and other related behaviors. Having a clear pictures of those deficits allows the clinicians to determine how best to provide treatment that not only improves language and social communication, but improves relationships with others and quality of life.”

Located in the Armstrong Center, the RiteCare Center for Communication Disorders employs graduate students in the university’s speech-language pathology program. Supervised by experienced licensed and certified speech-language pathologists, the professionals-in-training use best practices in their outreach work and clinical practicum experiences with the Savannah-Chatham County public school system, private clinics, and other medical facilities to enhance the lives of children and adults living with communication impairments, including those associated with autism.

Armed with the knowledge, training and clinical experience upon graduation, Armstrong’s alumni are making meaningful contributions to autism communities throughout the region.

Jeremy Cole, a board-certified behavior analyst who earned a B.S. in early childhood education from Armstrong in 2008, worked as a behavior analyst in St. Mary’s, Ga., where he implemented behavior modification programs, helping children and adults with autism spectrum disorders build verbal, social and adaptive daily living skills.

“My education background from Armstrong really, really helped with the people I was paired up with,” he says. “Armstrong definitely prepared me well.”

Deiondra Winn

Deiondra Winn
Class of 2016
Early Childhood, Child and Family Studies Track
Hinesville, Georgia