Community Physicians Use Innovative Project to Diagnose Autism in Young Kids


Newswise — A recent study has revealed that an innovative training program, originally developed at the University of Missouri, has the potential to address the growing need for timely evaluation and intervention for children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). As the number of children requiring such services continues to increase, this research highlights how barriers to diagnoses and treatment can be effectively reduced.

The timely identification and diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in young children is crucial for initiating evidence-based therapies and interventions. However, challenges such as lengthy waitlists at specialty centers, geographical distance, and financial constraints often impede early diagnosis.

The Extension for Community Healthcare Outcomes (ECHO) Autism STAT model is showing great promise in overcoming these barriers. This innovative program utilizes the established Project ECHO model to empower primary care physicians and clinicians in local communities to effectively evaluate and diagnose children with ASD. Through video-conferencing technology, the University of Missouri’s ECHO program creates collaborative learning communities that facilitate best practices among primary care clinicians through case-based learning and guided practice. The ECHO Autism STAT model takes it a step further by incorporating more intensive training elements that specifically focus on the diagnostic assessment of young children, building upon the existing ECHO Autism framework.

According to Kristin Sohl, MD, professor at the Department of Child Health at the University of Missouri School of Medicine and the founder of ECHO Autism, “By leveraging the skills of community-based primary care doctors and advanced practice providers, there is a significant potential to greatly improve access to diagnostic assessment for ASD among children in underserved areas. This expedites the process of receiving crucial therapies and services for these children, while also allowing autism specialty centers to focus on those with more complex diagnostic needs.” The ECHO Autism STAT model has the potential to transform care delivery, ensuring that children with ASD receive timely interventions and services, regardless of their location or access to specialized care.

The evaluation of participants in the ECHO Autism STAT program revealed promising results. Primary care physicians who participated in the program demonstrated congruence with gold-standard evaluations conducted at autism specialty centers in their diagnoses. Additionally, families overwhelmingly reported satisfaction with their experiences, and expressed a preference for local diagnostic assessments conducted by their community doctors, as indicated by Likert scale surveys. This underscores the potential of the ECHO Autism STAT model to provide accurate diagnoses and well-received care within local communities, reducing the need for families to travel long distances or face lengthy waitlists for specialized evaluations.

Alexandra James, MD, assistant professor of clinical child health at the University of Missouri School of Medicine, commented on the results, stating, “These findings provide further evidence of the effectiveness of the ECHO Autism STAT model in advancing the skills of community doctors and enhancing their confidence in diagnosing young children with clear signs of autism. By training and supporting primary care clinicians in diagnosing ASD, we are building capacity and expertise in underserved areas, including rural communities, which in turn reduces wait times at specialty centers and expedites access to essential care.” The ECHO Autism STAT model has the potential to address healthcare disparities by empowering primary care clinicians in underserved areas and improving access to timely and accurate autism diagnoses for young children.

The University of Missouri researchers recently published “ECHO (Extension for Community Healthcare Outcomes) Autism STAT: A Diagnostic Accuracy Study of Community-Based Primary Care Diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder” in the Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics.


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