In recent years, it has been thought that there is an autism epidemic due to rising rates in the United States. However, reports by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show there is no autism epidemic, but rather an autism diagnosis epidemic.
Twenty-two years ago, the CDC reported one in 150 children were diagnosed with autism; that rate now stands at one in 44 children being diagnosed. This shows that improvements are being done to properly diagnose a child with autism, but the question still stands: Why is there a wait time for an autism diagnosis?
To receive a diagnosis, families can be put on a “waitlist” for an evaluation, which can last up to one year depending on the organization and the greater number of children in need of this kind of service. Luckily, there are local organizations in the DMV area that specialize in trying to alleviate the wait time for children and their families.
Recently, Behavioral Framework, a “leading provider” in applied behavior analysis (ABA) therapy, opened Pathways Diagnostic Center, which helps alleviate the year-long wait times for children to receive an autism diagnosis. CEO of Behavioral Framework Kyle West and his wife Angela came up with the idea of Pathways Diagnostic Center after seeing the wait times families had to go through to receive a diagnosis through local hospitals.
Based in Rockville Maryland, Behavioral Framework and Pathways Diagnostic Center is trying to offer D.C., Maryland and Virginia families “the best autism care that we can offer.” With the opening of the center, West said he and his wife hope there will be an “increased access to care.” The program offers both a clinic-setting or home-based therapy when a child is diagnosed, as well as further testing at another medical site.
As for why there seems to be such a backlog in children receiving an autism diagnosis, West said there are not enough providers who specialize in diagnostic work. This led Pathways Diagnostic Center to hire Dr. Andrea Howard, an autism diagnostic specialist who is able to “devote 100 percent of her time to doing autism diagnostics.” This allows Howard and the 500 employees working for Behavioral Framework to make sure families do not have to wait for an extended amount of time for a diagnosis.
Opening this past summer, Pathways Diagnostic Center is focused primarily in providing children and their families an autism diagnosis, but West said they have seen younger adults use the center as well. The overall goal of Behavioral Framework and Pathways Diagnostic Center is for people to know that “it’s available,” as well as “a very welcoming intake process.”
“The autism diagnosis really is a journey, and that’s where we came up with the name ‘Pathways,’” West said. “It’s not an end, it’s not a beginning, it’s another step on the journey.”
Verbal Beginnings, a mental health clinic in Columbia, Maryland, provides a program called “New Beginnings” to help families on a waitlist receive diagnostic services to children in the D.C., Maryland and Virginia area. On their website, they state their overall goal is to “help families obtain the diagnostic clarity that is necessary to initiate intervention services for their children.”
The program schedules families for an appointment with the organization, where they then partake in a comprehensive evaluation that includes the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule, Second Edition. After the evaluation, families receive a comprehensive evaluation report and “review results, clinical impressions and recommendations for intervention services” with a licensed psychologist at Verbal Beginnings.