In this blog, we summarize research about a multi-stage screening process to address disparities in early intervention, the benefits of mental health services for caregivers of children with ASD, and predictors of families withdrawing or being dismissed from early intervention services.
Multi-stage Screening in Early Intervention: A Critical Strategy for Improving ASD Identification and Addressing Disparities
Wait lists for comprehensive autism evaluations are often months long, causing some children to go without appropriate services. In this study, a multi-stage screening process was implemented by early intervention agencies serving diverse populations to measure the effectiveness of the program and identify disparities in access. First, standardized questionnaires were filled out by caregivers. Children who were reported to be exhibiting autism characteristics were then observed using a standardized play-based screening tool to identify which children should get a diagnostic evaluation. They found that nearly 84% of those who received an evaluation at the end of this screening process received an autism diagnosis, and that no demographic characteristics predicted an autism diagnosis. This suggests that a multi-step evaluation process may help identify those most in need of an evaluation, which could potentially cut down on waitlist times; however, future research should look at the eventual diagnoses of those who did not flag on screening tools to ensure that this process does not miss a significant number of children, therefore delaying their diagnoses.
Can a combination of mental health services and ADL therapies improve quality of life in families of children with autism spectrum disorder?
Having a child with autism often creates a unique family dynamic, but services typically target child outcomes instead of the family’s ability cope with unique challenges and support their child through these challenges. These authors surveyed 164 families about their use of various types of therapies and their quality of life. They found that families that used a combination of traditional therapies (e.g., speech-language therapy, behavioral therapy) and mental health services reported higher quality of life and emotional well-being than families who only used one type of therapy. This suggests that the addition of mental health services may strengthen a family’s ability to support their child’s development. Further studies should investigate the goals and methods used in these services to determine optimal ways to plan interventions to improve family outcomes.
Predictors of Parental Premature Exiting From Early Intervention Services
Early intervention services have been shown to improve long-term outcomes in children with disabilities, but some families may decline or withdraw from such services for reasons that are poorly understood. In this study, the researchers examined the records of 2500 children served by a regional early intervention program to determine which family characteristics predicted withdrawal from early intervention services. They found that 20% of families withdrew from EI services prematurely, and 15% of families were dismissed because they could not be contacted. Families from rural areas were more likely to withdraw from EI services, and Hispanic families and families with a suspected case of abuse or neglect were more likely to be dismissed from services. This study identifies potential groups that may be more vulnerable to leaving EI services early, and further research should investigate ways to ensure these families receive consistent, appropriate services.