TAMPA, Fla. – A company that provides virtual autism screening and claims to diagnose children in a matter of weeks instead of months or even years is now treating children in Florida making it easier for children to get necessary intervention.
Two-year-old Sienna has always been full of life and good cheer. So when her doctor said she was having developmental delays, the word, “autism,” hit Jamel Lanee Michini like a sledgehammer.
“(The doctor) said, ‘maybe even autism,’” explained Michini. “Imagine going into the pediatrician’s office for a checkup, and you’re like, what?”
While Michini and her husband helped Sienna at home with repetition and identifying everyday tasks, the Tampa couple enrolled her in therapy but paid $2,200 a month out of pocket.
“It’s astronomical,” Michini stated.
Insurance won’t cover it until there is an official diagnosis and prescription from a specialist. But, it took three months to see someone.
“In the meantime, your child is losing so much, they are not getting the specialist and the therapy that they need,” Michini said.
Clinician Kayla Wagner has spent a career making those diagnoses.
“The complexity of autism is also what makes it really beautiful,” she stated.
During the pandemic, when appointments often moved online, she realized she could see more patients faster.
Her company, “As You Are,” now sees kids in nine states, including Florida. They try to schedule screenings in under two weeks.
“Unlike a traditional in-person setting in which the physician would do that with the child themselves, the parent actually becomes the physician in this kind of way,” stated Wagner. “So they’re prompting play-based activities and then the physician is watching behaviors.”
Judith Miller, the director for the Center of Autism Research at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, says wait times have been a problem for years and are even worse now.
While in-person appointments might be necessary for certain kids, especially ones who are thrown off by screens, she says most could benefit from the virtual technique, which consists of three appointments.
“We used to have a very limited understanding of how to help people with autism reach their potential,” explained Miller. “Now we have a lot of different options for teaching skill development.”
Though she says wait-time statistics are hard to come by, some reports in Florida say it can take as long as two years for a diagnosis.
So waiting only a few weeks could make all the difference in the years ahead.
“When you’re waiting, that lag time, I don’t want to call it a ticking time bomb, but it’s like hey, I just want to get my child in to get some help,” said Michini.