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Aidan Mehta, 12, will receive comprehensive care for autism spectrum disorder (ASD) at the new Masonic Institute for the Developing Brain (MIDB).

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Acceptance – and comprehensive care – makes all the difference for autistic mother and son

Masonic Institute for the Developing Brain (MIDB) makes it easier for families – like Feroza Mehta and her son, Aidan – to get comprehensive care for autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

  • November 16, 2021
  • By Staff Writer

“We thought every baby was this way,” said Feroza Mehta.

Feroza had been concerned about her son, Aidan, since his birth. But he was the family’s first child. It was hard to tell what was “normal” for a baby, and what might be a sign of autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

Aidan wasn’t diagnosed with ASD until he was two years old – in large part because researchers are only now discovering ways to identify and diagnose ASD in children younger than 18 months. Even after diagnosis, it was a struggle for Feroza to get connected with resources. Aidan’s doctors were all in different locations, and it took time to locate and coordinate county and school district supports.

When Aidan was four years old, he began working with M Health Fairview Psychologist Amy Esler, PhD, LP. Starting this fall, 12-year-old Aidan will be cared for at the new Masonic Institute for the Developing Brain (MIDB).

MIDB opened to patients on Nov. 1 and is the first institute of its kind in Minnesota. It combines clinical care with leading-edge research into childhood brain and behavioral development.

It also brings together several M Health Fairview experts into one clinic location. These include specialists in child and adolescent psychiatry, developmental pediatrics, neuropsychology, psychology, and pediatric neurology. Together, this clinical team will partner with University of Minnesota researchers to advance our understanding of ASD, mental illness, and other behavioral and developmental conditions affecting Minnesota’s children and teens.

Going forward, MIDB will make it easier for families like Aidan and Feroza to receive accessible, leading-edge care.

Collaboration between experts makes Aidan’s journey easier

Developmental and mental health concerns often go hand in hand, said Esler, who helps direct the clinical program at MIDB. Autistic people frequently struggle with anxiety, hyperactivity, aggression, or self-injury.

Esler works with patients on natural coping mechanisms and collaborates with child psychiatrists on medication and other strategies.

With the opening of MIDB, Esler is now just down the hall from her colleagues in child and adolescent psychiatry – making partnerships to improve patient care even easier.

Even better, Aidan can receive all the care he needs to help him manage his ASD in one place. He can access neurologists, psychologists, and developmental pediatricians for complete and holistic care. Psychiatrists have also worked with the family on medications to help Aidan focus during school – teaming up with their colleagues in psychology and neurology to create a tailored approach that works best for Aidan.

New research supports leading-edge clinical care

MIDB is much more than a clinic. It is also home to University of Minnesota researchers at the forefront of their fields. Collaboration between M Health Fairview care teams and researchers will accelerate research and give MIDB patients access to the latest advances in care.

The institute will also house the Institute on Community Integration (ICI), which works with businesses, community leaders, and others to advocate for people with disabilities and educational support needs.

“We are excited to expand our partnerships in the community through this new institute. We also have a dedicated community participation team that will connect with families and autistic individuals to improve our patient care,” said Esler. “This will also allow us to design research that directly addresses their needs.”

As demand for ASD services increases, ICI researchers will offer telehealth care for ASD and other conditions. In this way, our providers can support families virtually and share ways to help their child at home before a diagnosis and between in-person visits.

This means more support for patients and their families in the critical early years of development.

“It’s a sign that ASD is being taken more seriously. Bringing all of this expertise together will finally help us get the support we need,” said Feroza. “If it’s difficult for families to get what they need in those critical stages, children fall through the cracks.”

Increasing understanding of and acceptance for autism

When Aidan was born, it was also difficult to accept that he might be different.

“There was denial in the back of our mind at first,” said Feroza. “You tell yourself, ‘It’s okay if he’s missing milestones.’ It’s a difficult thing to acknowledge that your child might need additional support.”

Clinical understanding of ASD is critical so that patients and their families can get the best possible support. But understanding and acceptance of autistic individuals in the broader community is just as important to improve quality of life for all Minnesotans.

As our understanding of ASD improves and our clinical care advances, Feroza and Esler hope that knowledge will flow out into the community, creating a better awareness and acceptance for autistic individuals statewide.

Feroza hopes that, in turn, will help other families see and accept the possible signs of ASD. Since receiving Aidan’s diagnosis, Feroza has also been diagnosed with ASD – having recognized some of her son’s social behaviors and struggles in herself.

“Denial is a huge part of why people wait to get a diagnosis – I experienced that myself and within my family,” said Feroza. “When we’re raising children, we’re trying to raise an adult who becomes an independent and functional member of society. The proper care is critical and MIDB will be a key part of that.”