DeSoto County psychologist Dr. Sheila Williamson of Integrated Health in Southaven is a leader in the field of assessing and helping treat behaviors of children in the autism spectrum.
Williamson, who came to DeSoto County from Oxford to work with children with autism, today is most excited that through a law enacted by the Mississippi Legislature two years ago, parents now are able to receive insurance coverage for the treatment she, and similar specialists, provide.
“We kind of hit on the edge of being able to being able to provide the standard of care that is provided in other states, which is Applied Behavioral Analysis,” Williamson said. “Now that we have the insurance law, we’re looking for that, especially with the younger kids, to provide that more intensive treatment, so that they make greater gains before they even start kindergarten. It’s pretty exciting.”
The measure, signed by Gov. Phil Bryant, requires coverage for autism-related services, including Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA), for youngsters age 2-8. Possible additional coverage past age 8 may be needed if a doctor determines it is necessary.
“We’ve had several insurance companies come do a site audit because it is different for Applied Behavioral Analysis,” Williamson said. “We’re in the process of credentialing, but we are excited to offer that.”
ABA is a program that uses techniques and principles to bring a positive change in behavior for youngsters with autism, such as positive reinforcement.
Williamson, who is also a member of the Mississippi Autism Board, said Integrated Health was first started to offer assessments, but it grown to do much more.
“When I finished an assessment, there was nowhere to go for treatment, so I started to find clinicians who had interest in that area,” Williamson said. “I also started doing some social skills groups and some individual therapy in the afternoons so the people that had those assessments had some treatment.”
Today, for instance, a clinician comes from the Corinth area to Southaven to assist and soon a satellite office will open in the area with the clinician splitting time between the two locations.
“We also work with children with attention deficit disorders,” Williamson said. “One of the providers here is very good with attachment issues, along with abuse and neglect. The biggest issue is providing an environment where we can really help focus on children reaching their true potential.”
Williamson came to the University of Mississippi 30 years ago to attend graduate school in clinical psychology with a plan to then return to New Jersey, where she did her undergraduate work at Rutgers University.
“People ask why I stayed and I always say that if I left because we didn’t have the services, we would never have the services,” Williamson said. “Coming from one of the gold standards in the country (New Jersey) to a place that didn’t have all of the resources, I feel, has made me a better clinician.”
Williamson is most grateful for the community support DeSoto County has provided her efforts.
“They have been really good to us, I think we are blessed to be where we are,” Williamson said. “Youngsters have the potential. It’s my job to figure out how to help you reach that potential. I think that’s what the programs here have all embraced.”
Bob Bakken is Staff Writer and may be reached at 662-429-6397 ext. 240.