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EDITORIAL: Autism center

Southern Nevada’s health care system is woefully deficient in a great many medical specialties, from mental health to pediatrics. No one is more aware of the challenges of obtaining adequate treatment than the parents of autistic children.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that one in 68 children falls somewhere on the autism spectrum. The developmental disorders cause behavioral, educational and communication challenges and are best treated by early diagnosis and intense therapies. But an extreme shortage of providers often leaves valley families on long waiting lists, and those few providers work independently of each other, scattered across town.

Amid many ambitious proposals to improve health care in Southern Nevada, few are as important as Tuesday’s announcement of a plan to create an autism services center. As reported by the Review-Journal’s Bethany Barnes, UNLV, the University of Nevada School of Medicine and the Grant a Gift Autism Foundation hope to lease about 15,000 square feet of space on Maryland Parkway. To do so, they’ll need to raise $1 million by the end of the year as part of a $3 million capital campaign. And donors already have contributed about $500,000.

UNLV’s Center for Autism Spectrum Disorders, which provides screenings and assessments, would move into the space. The project’s goal is not just to expand services and reduce patient wait times, but to create a single destination for those services so families spend less time coordinating appointments and driving all over town. Barbara Atkinson, planning dean for the proposed UNLV School of Medicine, sees the autism center project as part of the school, once both are built.

It will take many years for Southern Nevada’s health care system to catch up to existing demand. But partnerships such as this are exactly what the valley needs to get there. Bravo to the foundation, the university system and all the donors and families who are committed to making it happen.

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