SPECIAL REPORT: Autism Options

SPECIAL REPORT: Autism Options (MGN Online)

During the Nixon administration, the spotlight was bright on the diagnosis and treatment of autism.

Lawmakers committed to reducing the backlog of kids waiting for evaluation.

Last year, budgeters committed millions of new dollars toward the effort.

It's been 17 months since then-Governor Jay Nixon stood in front of an audience at the Thompson Center for Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disorders in Columbia and promised a $5 million bump in state funding.

Nixon also wanted to put a new autism center at Truman State University, but had to gut that funding last summer when state revenues came up short.

The Thompson Center received its expanded funding and now is just days away from opening this new research and training facility, which will instruct teachers, child care providers and those in the general community on how to deal with autism.

The big target for training is family doctors. In the 1970's, researchers identified only one in 5,000 kids as being afflicted with autism. Today, with the spectrum of autism disorders greatly expanded, the diagnosis affects one in every 68 kids. While the number of evaluations has tripled in the last five years, the waiting list has grown as well. If a doctor suspects autism and refers a child to Thompson, it still could be a year before that child is evaluated and diagnosed.

For the past couple of years, the Thompson Center has increased its reach with ECHO, or extended care health option. It's a telemedicine program developed at the University of New Mexico and elevated by researchers at Vanderbilt to teach people such as community health physician Jasmine El Khatib to diagnose autism for toddlers as young as 14 months old in rural areas. Khatib said she now is doing three to four evaluations every week.

Doctors across the state and around the globe can meet through teleconference to discuss their findings and get confirmations on their diagnoses from the Thompson staff.

The Thompson Center does not have a formal list of ECHO autism-trained doctors, but you can find more information here.

Dr. Sohl said the Centers for Disease Control next year will release a new series of studies on autism, studies which could alter the spectrum once again and, as a result, change the frequency of diagnosis to something other than the current one in 68.

In her ideal world, Sohl said every pediatrician and family doctor would become a qualified autism evaluator.

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