Parents who have concerns about the development of their children can get access to early autism screening and parent training intervention for their children while waiting for diagnostic assessment.
The Winnipeg Foundation has provided a second year of funding to Manitoba Families for Effective Autism Treatment (MFEAT) and project manager Dr. Kirsten Wirth, C.Psych., BCBA-D from Wirth Behavioural Health Services to provide this service.
In the past year this project has supported 31 families by providing early screening to children whose parents had concerns about their development.
Forty-four percent of children referred by the project for diagnostic assessment were seen by a Developmental Pediatrician, 64% received an earlier diagnosis than without the aid of the project. At the end of the first year (October 2016) the project had a wait list of 11 children for the parent training intervention portion of the service.
Many parents who received the service have indicated it was invaluable to them, helping them learn to manage their children’s behaviour problems, to navigate the system before and after diagnosis, to support and teach their children and to foster the parent-child relationship.
Research shows parents often have accurate concerns about their child’s development around 6-12 months, long before receiving a referral for autism diagnosis. It also indicates that in Canada autism continues to be under-diagnosed and the average age of diagnosis is around four years old.
In Manitoba, these numbers do not account for children who are diagnosed at school-age, as diagnostics are not centralized and children receive a mixture of public and private assessment services. Late assessment may be particularly harmful to a child’s development, as research shows that the earlier a child receives intervention the better the outcome.
In Manitoba children will age-out of eligibility for critical services after sitting on extensive wait lists once they turn 5, or will be ineligible due to receiving a later diagnosis. Therefore, early identification and behavioural intervention is critical to children with autism, and treatment outcomes will reduce autism symptoms as well as decrease long term costs to families and funders.
The early identification project will continue to help parents to achieve access to assessment, as well as some intervention while they are waiting.
Parents can access the service by contacting Wirth Behavioural Health Services @ 204-807-6779, emailing Dr. Wirth at firstname.lastname@example.org, or the contact page on www.wirthbehaviouralhealth.com. The project is expected to run until at least October 2017.