Editor’s Note: In recognition of Autism Awareness Month, we have several posts addressing autism-related issues throughout April. The screening program described here is one of several ASD initiatives at Wichita State University; another that eases children’s visits to the dentist is explored in this month’s April ASHA Leader issue.
Recently, I became passionate about expediting identification and diagnosis for young children who show signs and symptoms of autism spectrum disorder (ASD). This desire was fueled by a research project I conducted with Douglas F. Parham and Jagadeesh Rajagopalan; the results revealed that pediatricians and family physicians have not been screening young children for ASD as recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics (regularly conducting ASD-specific screenings for children two times prior to their second birthday) in Kansas, Iowa and Oklahoma.
Based on these results, I determined that one way I could help advance the identification of these young children would be to develop an authentic interprofessional education opportunity for students in the allied-health and education programs at my university: Wichita State University in Kansas. In the spring of 2012, WSU students, faculty and community professionals agreed to form the Wichita State University-Community Partners: Autism Interdisciplinary Diagnostic Team (AIDT).
The team aims to:
- Educate undergraduate and graduate students to better recognize the characteristics of ASD and to be able to participate in screening, assessment and referral of children who demonstrate early signs.
- Provide a highly needed service to children and families throughout south-central Kansas.
Since the initiation of this team, faculty, clinical educators and students from eight departments—communication sciences and disorders (audiology and speech-language pathology), early childhood unified special education, clinical psychology, physical therapy, dental hygiene, physician assistant, nursing and public health—have participated. Additionally, the University of Kansas School of Medicine–Wichita (represented by a developmental pediatrician and an advanced practice registered nurse) has been a valued partner and referral source.
Faculty and clinical educators recruit and select students to participate in our screening program. Student participants must enroll in a field-based experience and/or an appropriate class within their respective programs. All stakeholders then do a one-day training prior to the start of each semester on identifying the characteristics of ASD, to screen, to participate in the assessment process and to identify appropriate referrals for children and families. The educators agree to participate in at least four diagnostic sessions each semester, ensuring that students from various professions have multiple opportunities to work together, while observing interprofessional collaboration among university and community professionals.
The partnering developmental pediatrician and the advanced practice registered nurse refer children and families to the screening program based on the “red flag” characteristics parents report on the pediatrician’s developmental history form. The program’s coordinator (that’s me) contacts the family via phone to gather additional developmental information, and then the team meets to discuss that information and other relevant documents.
The team conducts the evaluation over two days. The first day, we assess the child’s communication, play and cognitive abilities, using selected tools and strategies based on the child’s strengths and needs. The second day, we administer the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule-2 and the Childhood Autism Rating Scale-Second Edition, Standard Version, to provide the developmental pediatrician with diagnosis-relevant information. We also conduct hearing, motor and oral health screenings. The team then meets to discuss the aggregated assessment results, which, in addition to appropriate recommendations and resources, are shared with the family.
We schedule an appointment for the child and family with the developmental pediatrician approximately one week following our assessment. Someone from our team accompanies the family to the appointment to act as a liaison and assist with the examination.
Since the introduction of the AIDT, 133 students, clinical educators, faculty and community professionals across 10 disciplines have come together via this individualized education program field-based experience. Our students and professionals have assessed 24 young children who present with characteristics of ASD, and approximately 85 percent of these children have received a confirming medical diagnosis.
Participants and families alike gain from this experience. Students learn from, with and among others who are committed to interprofessional practice. Families voice their appreciation for receiving diagnostic information from multiple disciplines all at once, so they don’t have to run from place to place to receive it.
Mostly, they value how quickly the AIDT’s work enables them to get their child needed help.
Trisha Self, PhD, CCC-SLP, is an associate professor in the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders at Wichita State University and coordinator of the school’s Community Partners: Autism Interdisciplinary Diagnostic Team. She is an affiliate of ASHA Special Interest Groups 1, Language Learning and Education; and 10, Issues in Higher Education.