By Samantha Sallade, Ph.D.
Dr. Sallade is a certified school psychologist who is experienced in evaluating children for autism and other neurodevelopmental challenges. She is the Director of Clinical Outreach of As You Are, a virtual clinic dramatically increasing access to early autism diagnostic services through the use of exclusively telehealth appointments
If you have identified a developmental concern regarding your child, the last thing you want to do is wait – but unfortunately, waiting is part of the process in many cases. When it comes to autism evaluations, kids are waiting as long as three years to be seen in-person, which has parents feeling helpless and an army of clinicians and physicians eager to solve this problem. This is a national and global crisis that should openly be discussed more because the longer kids wait to get an evaluation, the longer they wait to get necessary services. That’s why we created As You Are, in fact – to shorten time to diagnosis.
So why the long wait times?
We can’t blame the pandemic for everything, but it is a major reason why wait times for an autism evaluation are exponentially long. The backlog of patients who couldn’t be seen in person during the height of the pandemic hasn’t yet let up and likely won’t for years to come. The other issue is that there aren’t enough trained clinicians to evaluate children in need of an assessment across the US.
What can you do about it?
The good news is you aren’t stuck. Thanks to some easily accessible online resources and some novel options, like exploring receiving an autism evaluation via telehealth appointments, there are available solutions that you can utilize right now.
- Learn more about autism
Familiarize yourself with the signs and symptoms of autism spectrum disorder (ASD). It can also be helpful to learn more about other conditions (e.g., ADHD, Anxiety, or Depression) that can cause similar symptoms, so you have a broader understanding of the range of possible neurodivergent conditions that could be affecting your child. If you haven’t already, I encourage parents to use the Autism Screening Tool, a short questionnaire used to determine a child’s current probability of autism based on their age and social, emotional, and behavioral functioning.
- Consider a virtual evaluation
There are a lot of wait lists around the country for in-person autism evaluations, but you may not realize there is another way. Although the pandemic has contributed to long evaluation waitlists, it has also resulted in autism experts developing innovative ways to reliably assess autism through the use of telehealth. Clinics like As You Are are now able to provide evidence-based autism diagnostic evaluations virtually to families within the comfort of their own home. By working alongside in-person clinics to increase availability of appointments with trained clinicians, virtual autism evaluations are able to reduce waiting times for families.
- Explore Local Resources
Few things are as crucial as early and accurate diagnosis for children with autism because it unlocks therapeutic options at a time when they are most effective. Local nonprofit organizations and parent centers can help provide families with information, resources, and training opportunities. While some services may only be available after a diagnosis is made, learning about what areas of support are available and most relevant to your child’s current needs can help set you and your family up for success.
- Look into Intervention Services
You don’t need to wait for an evaluation to get started with some intervention services. And when it comes to early intervention, the sooner, the better. If your child has a developmental delay, request an early intervention evaluation from the state or school system, so your child can get started receiving school-based services. These school-based evaluations can take a while to be completed (sometimes over 2 months depending on the state), so the sooner you are able to begin this process the better!
- Pull records together
Gather any relevant records, including medical records from your child’s pediatrician, hearing test results, lab test results, school-based evaluation or early intervention evaluation notes, therapy notes, and specialist records. This can help present a full picture for the evaluation. Your physician may also want to know what other people in your child’s life have noticed. Talk with other people who know your child, like teachers, babysitters, and therapists, to gain additional insights for your file.
- Prepare for your child to shine
A little bit of advance planning can help your child cooperate at the evaluation. If possible, schedule the appointment at the right time of day for your child. If the evaluation is happening in person in an office, bring snacks and a drink to keep your child comfortable and in good spirits. If possible, arrange for a time when you can bring your child without bringing siblings along as well. That will enable you and your child to focus with minimal distractions. Unless specified by the clinic, make sure to follow any current medication routines for your child. If you are completing a virtual evaluation, try to minimize the number of screens that are on (e.g., iPads or TVs) that could detract from the play session.
- Coordinate schedules with anyone who should be in attendance at your appointment
Here at As You Are, we understand the importance of having a support system. That is why we encourage both guardians and/or caregivers be in attendance at your child’s appointment. This will help provide additional context and if you’re a note taker they could help. That way, you can focus on your child.
Further, each appointment occurs with your child’s dedicated physician. Our evaluation process is complete in three individual virtual video appointments. Following the third appointment, or results appointment, every family is connected with a dedicated Care Sidekick who will help your family find the appropriate resources in the area and provide ongoing support.
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