Increased experience and understanding of autism have enabled health care teams to offer more effective interventions, earlier. Waitlists around the nation to see a specialist and receive an autism diagnosis are long and can take 1–2 years to see a specialist, which means that families are losing critical time when interventions can be the most impactful.
“The earlier children receive interventions, the better the outcomes tend to be, so our big focus is to get children off the waitlist and into appropriate services,” said Kathryn Ostermaier, MD, chief-of-service for Developmental Behavioral Pediatrics at Texas Children’s Hospital, which is educating clinics around the nation about their innovative approach to helping children access the treatment they need.
The Road Map Model
The Road Map Model at Texas Children’s is a consultative model of care created to educate families and help them access the right services and treatment programs for children with varying developmental and behavioral concerns. The model consists of a series of workshops led by specially trained social workers to create a supportive environment for families of a child who has autism and other developmental conditions and matches each child and family with services that address their unique needs.
Workshops start the moment a referral to Texas Children's Autism Program is made, so that families are aware of the services they can access without a formal diagnosis. A developmental behavioral pediatrician, neurodevelopmental pediatrician, or psychologist then sees the patient to make a diagnosis. From there, the family is involved in a series of targeted workshops to gradually educate them on their child’s condition and the helpful resources available.
“We're about 2 years into the model, but we’re getting a lot of national interest. We have presented our model at national meetings and we have about 35 other centers around the country that have reached out for information about how they can replicate it,” said Dr. Ostermaier.
Workshops are free, available in English and Spanish and open to anyone in the community.
The Road Map Model has helped children in the Texas Children’s community access the services they need for success, but the Autism Program at Texas Children’s is also working hard to educate more physicians to diagnose autism.
“We’re involved in continuing education for other providers recognized by the state of Texas to have the qualifications necessary to make an autism diagnosis. That includes child psychiatry and neurology as well as psychology,” said Dr. Ostermaier.
With this education, Texas Children’s hopes that providers in these other specialties can also begin making autism diagnoses in their clinics. These children can then participate in the autism workshops in the Road Map Model and access the services they need sooner.
For nearly a decade, Developmental Behavioral Pediatrics at Texas Children’s has offered a fellowship program. With the new Road Map Model, fellows are not only learning the essential components of clinical diagnosis, but also participating in workshops and visiting community services for children with autism.
A recent Health Resources and Services Administration grant has allowed Texas Children’s to expand their education efforts. This fall, they will welcome 2 general pediatricians into a miniature fellowship program, offering 300 hours of education on developmental behavioral pediatrics.
“We’re hoping these providers go back to their practices and communities and become champions for developmental pediatrics,” said Dr. Ostermaier.
Education is key
Expansive education efforts have made Texas Children’s a hub for developmental pediatrics and autism care. Families looking to understand a new diagnosis or access a unique community service for their child can find the resources and education they need at Texas Children’s.
“People know we have the answers,” said Dr. Ostermaier. “We have a very amazing and collaborative team; members of our team are working at the top of their licensures. I’m very proud of the work that we do here.”