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Searching for Autism: June 30, 2013

A simple checklist filled out by parents launches the search. Many suspect their child has autism but have nothing to go on. So they come from across the state to take part in Golisano Children’s Hospital’s free autism screenings.

“We’re getting more and more people coming out to the clinics. It seems like there’s not a program like this anywhere else in the state. We’re not sure, maybe even in the nation,” says Jami Hallman, nurse practitioner with Golisano Children’s Hospital of Southwest Florida.

The workup is performed by a specially trained nurse practitioner. Armed with the parent’s questionnaire, they give children starting at 18 months old, a one-on-one examination. Looking for subtle signs.

“Your child is language delayed or they have lost language skills, that’s a big factor. Another thing is they just don’t have good eye contact, not so interested in social interaction with others. They might have some behaviors such as lining up of toys in a row instead of playing with them the way you think a child would want to play with it,” says Hallman.

The screening looks at motor skills, language, cognitive and social development. Parents get the results immediately. It is not an end-point for a diagnosis, but searches for children who are likely to have autism and should move forward in the process.

A 2009 study found that on average, children aren’t diagnosed until they’re five. But experts would like to see it happen much sooner. Research shows, early therapy can lessen autism’s severity. Even entry-level tests can be expensive, so it may price people out of trying.

“And they’re looking for a way to get a screening- just to get an idea if this is something that will affect their child,” says Hallman.

By searching for autism early, experts hope to find more opportunity to intervene.