Hospital for Special Care in New Britain is growing, emerging as a nationwide leader in autism care.
"It's an amazing experience. For me, being a professional in the field but also having a child on the spectrum, it's one of those times when the stars align for you and you feel like you're making a difference," says Chief Operating Officer Lynn Ricci, also the mother of a son with autism.
In February, Governor Malloy announced that the hospital's Autism Center was named the nation's first Patient-Centered Specialty Practice for Autism Spectrum Disorder. The facility earned this certification after meeting rigorous criteria, such as the creation of an electronic medical record.
It's an example of how the center has grown and evolved since this Mommy Minute report in 2013 when it opened with a mission to become the first Patient-Centered Medical Home in the state, a hub where families affected by autism can turn for coordinated care and answers to complicated questions.
In the last few years, staff has been added and relationships betweeen specialists and educational resources have been formed.
"We've seen over 600 kids," says Ricci, explaining that some of them are being served on an on-going basis. "They might come in for speech and occupational therapy. They might see a psychologist or psychiatrist, they may see a combination of all of them...We provide all services in coordination with the pirmary care doc but we don't provide the primary care."
Additionally, this is "Year Two" of the Spectrum of Kindness, an online community connected to the center where people can share experiences and photos, finding camaraderie and making connections. "We got stories from across the country...it has become more national in scope," says Ricci.
This commitment to helping folks find a community extends into public events. On Sunday, the hospital is partnering with Autism Speaks for a meet-and-greet with Carrie Cariello, blogger of Exploring the Colorful World of Autism and author of What Color is Monday?, a memoir about parenting and autism. Autism Families CONNECTicut in West Hartford will also be there.
"She writes with a great sense of humor but a really authentic presentation of having a child with autism," says Ricci.
Cariello's publisher asked her to start the blog: "I really resisted and kicked and screamed and said, 'Blogs are not my thing.'" But, as she immersed herself in this new world, publishing posts every Monday, she felt a response from the public that was worthwhile - on both a public and personal level. "It became such a cathartic, therapeutic activity for me," she explains, saying the posts help her look at issues within her family with a birds eye view, not just as a mother but as a writer.
Cariello is excited for Sunday's event with Hospital for Special Care, a place that's bringing families together. "I think within the autism community - that's overlooked sometimes. It's an isolating condition for mothers and fathers," she says.
Ricci agrees: "It's just to help people feel that they're not alone and that there are others out there dealing with similar issues."
She believes the system had gaps. Families were struggling to connect the dots between services and specialists, becoming overwhelmed by the puzzle required to help their child.
Ricci is confident that the Hospital for Special Care is providing a coordinated solution: "That's our goal. We help people put all the pieces together the best way we can for the best outcome for their kid."
Click here for information about Sunday's event with Cariello.