Addressing the still-unexplained increase in the number of children who develop autism spectrum disorders is a challenge for communities across the nation. In Loudoun, these are being met by extraordinary collaborations that offer families comfort in critical situations.
At the core is a nonprofit organization started a half century ago by parents of developmentally disabled children. Today known as the Arc of Loudoun, the organization long has been the chief resource and advocate for families wrestling with the special needs of children with autism spectrum disorders. As the needs have increased disproportionately to the county’s rapid population growth, its leaders have somehow managed to keep pace. In recent years, their focus has been on developing a state-of-the art treatment and activity center at the historic Paxton Campus in Leesburg.
Even while pursuing that challenge, Arc leaders have had a strong off-campus impact. Last week, their support was touted during the unveiling of a new program at Inova Loudoun Hospital designed to ensure the special needs of pediatric patients with sensory disorders were addressed to the greatest extent possible during emergency room visits. This week, Arc again was at the head of the table leading a community discussion on how to protect residents with intellectually and developmental disorders during their interactions with cops and courts. Earlier, they worked with Loudoun’s law enforcement agencies to ensure that tragic encounters with people seen in other areas of the country are not repeated here.
Now area families are getting more help, as two universities target Loudoun for innovative programs aimed at improving the lives of autistic residents. George Washington University’s investment to bring its Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disorders Institute to Ashburn puts Loudoun County on the front lines of important long-term autism research. Virginia Commonwealth University’s new partnership with Loudoun County Public Schools promises more immediate results in improving the lives of these residents even as they move beyond the classroom. Even those efforts build on the decades-long work done locally by Arc of Loudoun and ECHO.
Together these programs serve as important examples of how leaders can build better communities when they collaborate to protect their most vulnerable neighbors.