Autism and getting faster answers

Autism Awareness Month is a good time to look at changes to how children with Autism Spectrum Disorder are diagnosed and treated.

The latest report from the CDC suggests that although there has been improvement, many children still aren’t getting an early enough assessment for autism. A major reason for the delay in diagnosis is a gap in services. With one in 68 children having autism, there are many who need an assessment and limited number of providers qualified to do that assessment. For all these reasons, getting a timely diagnosis can be a problem and average wait times run up to many months across the country.

Thanks to a new process at Dayton Children’s, a family is now able to get a preliminary answer about whether their child has autism in less than a week after submitting their information. “We started the autism diagnostic center just over one year ago and the results of this approach are dramatic,” says Dr. Craig Boreman, medical director of the center. “A child can now get connected to the services that can help them succeed sooner than ever.”

How is this possible? Dr. Boreman and his team split the screening process into two tracks. When a pediatrician first refers a child for concerns of autism, that child is seen in the First Steps Clinic at the autism diagnostic center. In this initial screening, medical professionals use a play-based approach that can help determine whether the child needs a full assessment for autism or for another behavioral or developmental delay. Results show that up to 70 percent of the children seen in the First Steps Clinic actually have some other behavioral or developmental delay and not autism. Those children can then be directed to the services that will best help them succeed.

The 30 percent of children that have features of autism are connected with initial services and also scheduled with the Team Clinic. At this longer, more intensive assessment, several medical professionals evaluate the child and interview the parents to determine the best course of action and most appropriate services. This appointment is normally able to be scheduled within a few weeks of the initial screening. This gets a child access to critical services faster.

This process also leverages a team and community approach. Groups involved in the evaluations include developmental pediatricians, psychologists, nurse practitioners and social workers all trained and experienced in working with children with autism and other developmental disorders. This group then reaches out to a network of service providers in the community to wrap a family in the ongoing care they need to best serve their child.

“Our vision is not restricted by the relative size of our city, rather we seek to be a leader in providing excellent care for children and families affected by autism as we work alongside our outstanding community partners,” says Dr. Boreman.

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This look at a children’s health or safety issue comes from Dayton Children’s Hospital. Email: