It’s hard to believe that only twenty years ago, Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) was a developmental disability with which few people were familiar. A few decades ago, the incidence rate according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) was estimated to be 1 in 2000. Now it is 1 in 68.
While this increase in the incidence rate is still in question and often an instigator of interesting conversations, it is largely believed that an emphasis on early diagnosis and screening as well as a revised definition of Autism Spectrum Disorder (according to the DSM-5) has been a contributing factor to the rapid rise of this incidence rate. While we have made many advances in our understanding of what autism is (and isn’t), diagnosis is still largely a question of behavioral observation. There is no valid blood test or genetic test for autism (yet).
At the same time, we know that early diagnosis and identification of ASD can lead to better outcomes for individuals across the lifespan. Further, since every child with ASD can present with different educational and medical needs, it is important to include individualized recommendations and next steps in the diagnostic process.
This model of best practice is one of the hallmarks of the Commonwealth Autism Diagnostic , Assessment Clinic , a program of The Founders Center. The clinic team uses a transdisciplinary process that allows multiple disciplines to consider the question of whether a child meets criteria for an Autism Spectrum Disorder, while also considering the strengths and needs of each child and what that means for recommendations for future interventions. The team uses the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS), a play-based assessment recognized as the gold standard for autism identification. Additional assessments include a parent interview and a play based assessment examining communication skills, motor skills, and sensory processing. Children as young as 15 months of age can be assessed through the clinic process.
The clinic is led by Dr. Donald Oswald, a clinical psychologist with experience as both a clinician and teacher. He not only leads the clinic team in Richmond but has helped Commonwealth Autism replicate this clinic model in over 16 programs (public and private schools and early intervention programs) across the state. The rest of the clinic team includes a speech language pathologist, occupational therapist, educational specialist, a psychiatrist, and of course, the child’s family. The waiting list for the Richmond-based clinic is usually less than 2 months. For more information about the Commonwealth Autism Diagnostic Assessment Clinic, you can visit the website or call 804-355-0300.