Sarah D. Sparks at Education Week:
Months of lockdowns have left a massive backlog of children who show the warning signs of autism, waiting for a formal evaluation to get help.
That’s why Megan Roberts hopes to move autism evaluations out of doctors’ offices and onto Zoom conferences, using staff who already work regularly with schools and early learning centers. In the process, she also hopes to clear the entire waiting list of 1,224 children in need of an autism evaluations in Illinois.
Roberts’s project is one of seven projects that have been awarded a share of $14 million grants from the National Center for Special Education Research. All of the funded projects are focused on supporting students with disabilities who have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic.
Roberts, an associate professor for the communication sciences and disorders early-intervention research group at Northwestern University, and her team received a four-year, $3 million grant to develop and validate a telehealth-based protocol to train speech-language pathologists to evaluate students’ risk of autism spectrum disorders. Using speech-language pathologists dramatically widens the pool of evaluators, as most school districts and Early Head Start centers have them, while a 2019 study found 84 percent of U.S. counties have no access to autism medical diagnosticians.
About 85 percent of the time, parents of those diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders start to voice concerns about their child’s development well before age 3, according to the National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities. But even before the pandemic, the center found only 42 percent received a developmental evaluation to diagnose the disorder by age 3, and 30 percent of children had not yet been formally diagnosed by age 8.