ATLANTA — There is a one-year wait to get an autism evaluation in most parts of the country right now. That time period is too long for many children who need the support, but an autism researcher and clinician took matters into her own hands to develop a tool to fast-track the process.
Jenna Eldred’s son has always brought him joy, but in the past few years, she saw the 6-year-old struggling.
“He is joyful. No matter what he is going through, he will find a way to make you laugh,” Eldred said.
She wanted to get him evaluated for autism but said she couldn’t get him into a specialist for more than a year.
“Trying to find someone to test and things like that is where I hit the wall,” Eldred said. “And then it made me feel like I’m failing him as his mom because we’re not getting him anywhere.”
That’s when Eldred found As You Are, a new virtual tool that just launched in Georgia.
“I’ll be honest, at first I was a little skeptical. ‘Is it going to be helpful or am I going to be just as frustrated as I have been all these years trying to get the help I need?'” she said.
Founder Kayla Wagner understands. She was working with frustrated families every day when she was the one giving the diagnosis as a clinician.
“Parents were looking everywhere for an evaluation. In some parts of our country, they’re waiting 12 months or more. Sometimes more than a year, two years for an eval,” she said. “So I knew that I knew we had to do something to help. Parents are looking for answers because they want to best support their child.”
Wagner created the virtual screening tool called As You Are. Families have a video call with a licensed physician in their state to help get that diagnosis.
“It helps unlock access to services. I think all children are awesome, but all children also have specific and unique needs,” she said.
For kids in the public school system, they need that diagnosis before they can get access to services and support. For children in rural areas or low-income families, the wait to get those services is even longer.
“There’s a longer wait time for families in under-resourced communities, so by creating a virtual model, we can collapse all barriers,” Wagner said.
As You Are has launched in nine states and plans to offer the tool nationwide.
Eldred thinks all kids deserve the same access as Isiah.
“He will still find the light to make you smile even through his tears. He’s a sweet kid,” she said.
Parents who believe their child could benefit from an evaluation can find the screening tool on their website that can help with finding the best next steps.