Change approach to diagnosing autism to ease wait times, stress: B.C. doctor

Society says autism spectrum disorder affects one in 66 Canadians aged five to 17

Lindsay Roberts is home-schooling her son, not by choice but because the five-year-old boy would be prone to hitting people, screaming and suddenly running away if he became overstimulated in a classroom without any support.

“My little guy couldn’t start kindergarten because he can’t access support without a diagnosis,” said Roberts, whose son Colton is showing symptoms of autism, the same neurodevelopmental disorder that affects his eight-year-old brother, Travis.

So far, Colton has seen a pediatrician he was referred to by his family doctor but is still waiting to see another specialist who could assess and diagnose his condition.

“The wait list for the pediatrician is a year and then the wait list for the actual assessment with the psychiatrist is another year to 18 months,” said Roberts, who lives in Lake Country.

“The system doesn’t offer support until the child is suspended many times or expelled. Then we can apply for support but that’s really hard on a child’s self-esteem.”

Many parents choose to jump the public queue by getting a private assessment but that’s not possible for those who can’t afford the extra expense, Robertson said, adding funding for autistic children is not available until after a diagnosis and can’t be used to pay for assessments retroactively.

Dr. Lonnie Zwaigenbaum, chair of the Canadian Pediatric Society’s task force on autism spectrum disorders, said the increasing prevalence of the condition calls for general pediatricians and other primary health-care providers to be trained and supported to assess and diagnose it and provide follow-up care.

“There have been pockets of innovation in Canada, really demonstrating that it’s possible to support community pediatricians to do some of that assessment work,” he said, adding that is the case in parts of Ontario, B.C. and, to a lesser extent, in Alberta.

“This really needs to be part of the standard of care in Canada and to not do so contributes to disparities in access and also bottlenecks in the system and likely contributes to lengthy wait lists,” he said.

READ MORE: New study suggests autism overdiagnosed: Canadian expert

The involvement of a team of health-care providers who assess autism is not always necessary and impractical in some areas, Zwaigenbaum added.

The society has released recommendations for a more flexible diagnostic approach that would include general pediatricians, not just doctors and psychiatrists licensed to do so, using a range of resources including screening tools and a checklist for assessments involving conditions that could be associated with autism, such as dental, vision and hearing issues as well as sleep, anxiety and ADHD.

Functional challenges that could require physical, speech-language and educational supports are also considered, as well as questionnaires for parents and teachers, and determining whether families are getting help with any social assistance needs.

Zwaigenbaum said the approach would address concerns about lack of access in rural and remote regions where developmental pediatricians aren’t available when parents become concerned about developmental issues including lack of response when a child’s name is said, delay in language and limited eye contact.

“You may not even have a pediatrician in town so trying to come up with a more flexible diagnostic assessment system that can be applied across the diversity of settings in Canada, I think, was really an explicit goal of this task force,” he said.

Zwaigenbaum said all children should be monitored for early behavioural signs of autism spectrum disorder during doctors’ visits regarding their development.

The aim is to use the recommendations as a blueprint for autism care in medical school residency programs as well as continuing education courses, Zwaigenbaum said.

The society says autism spectrum disorder affects one in 66 Canadians aged five to 17, with boys diagnosed four times more often than girls.

Susan Watts, a family support representative for Autism Canada, said the society’s position on the role of general pediatricians would allow for earlier diagnosis, reducing stress among children and parents involving a condition that can affect their daily lives in profound ways.

Watts said a patchwork of diagnostic approaches exists across the country, with Quebec licensing only psychiatrists to diagnose autism while the requirements in other jurisdictions are not as strict.

That means children who moves from one province to another after being diagnosed may have to be rediagnosed and go through the waiting process all over again, she said.

Camille Bains, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

High tech fish transport system set up to ‘whoosh’ salmon past Big Bar landslide

Fish will spend about 20 seconds inside the system, moving at roughly 20 metres per second

100 Mile RCMP seek help in stolen credit card case

Card was used at multiple locations in 100 Mile House

Clinton RCMP seek assistance in Canoe Creek hit and run

A pedestrian was sent to hospital with serious injuries after vehicle failed to stop

Kelowna man charged with harming a hamster

The 20-year-old Kelowna man faces several animal cruelty charges

Trudeau to seek 10 days of paid sick leave for Canadian workers, says talks are ongoing

Paid sick leave is key to keeping COVID-19 spread under control, prime minister says

COVID-19 checkpoints ‘up to them,’ Bonnie Henry says of remote B.C. villages

Support local tourism economy, but only if you’re invited in

Vancouver Island hasn’t seen a new homegrown case of COVID-19 in two weeks

Island’s low and steady transmission rate chalked up to several factors

Eight people arrested in Victoria homeless camp after enforcement order issued

Those living in tents were given until May 20 to move indoors

Andrew Weaver says he was ready to defeat John Horgan government

Independent MLA blasts B.C. Greens over LNG opposition

44% fewer passengers flew on Canadian airlines in March 2020 than in 2019

COVID-19 pandemic has hit airlines hard as travel remains low

Commercial rent relief applications open as feds encourage landlords to apply

Program would see government cover 50 per cent of the rent

Most Read