April 2nd is World Autism Awareness Day and at Cornerstone, we are pleased to announce that we will start offering comprehensive autism assessments and brief consultations services with Dr. Hilda Ho. To understand more about autism and her diagnostic process, please see below.
What is Autism and should I get an assessment for my child?
Autism is a type of neurodevelopmental disorder. It is a label given when individuals present with 1) social communication difficulties and 2) restricted, repetitive patterns of behaviours, interests or activities that significantly impact their day-to-day living. Although symptoms show up early on in the developmental period (i.e., as early as 2 years old), some individuals only experience challenges as they enter school and socialization demands increase.
Common Signs and Symptoms:
Some signs may include:
- little eye contact
- very intense interests (e.g., watching the same youtube clip over and over again) or interested in things that are not typical for the child’s age (e.g., interest in toilets, lights)
- repeating words or phrases (echolalia)
- repetitive behaviours, such as spinning
- intense reactions to minor changes in routine or surroundings
- appearing uninterested in other children
- difficulties communicating own needs either using words or gestures
What happens if my child has some/all of the above symptoms?
For many parents, seeing many of their child’s behaviours fit on these lists can be a very stressful experience. If this is the case for you, it would be helpful to first check in with your family doctor regarding your concerns as many of these symptoms share overlaps with other conditions. Your doctor will be the best person to talk to regarding whether an autism (or other) assessment is worth pursuing. Remember that a diagnosis is a label for certain patterns of behaviour and that a label does not change who your child is.
How to obtain an autism assessment in British Columbia:
In British Columbia, families have two options to access an autism assessment.
Option 1: Through the public system (for free)
How to access:
- Get a referral from your doctor
- BC Autism Assessment Network (BCAAN) will coordinate an assessment as close to where you live as possible
- After the assessment, BCAAN will send you a Clinical Outcomes Form with test results
Wait-times are often quite lengthy (average of 1.5 years): Current wait times
Option 2: Through the private system (out of pocket/extended health coverage)
How to access:
- Make an appointment with a qualified B.C specialist (i.e., Paediatrician, Psychiatrist, Registered Psychologist).
- The qualified specialist should be able to complete the Non-BCAAN (Private) Diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder (PDF) with you to access funding
Wait-times vary depending on provider.
In British Columbia, the diagnostic process requires that the diagnosis of autism be completed by a registered psychologist, paediatrician or psychiatrist. Different types of assessments are required if your child is under the age of 6 or if they are above the age of 6.
An autism assessment for children above the age of 6 (also called a clinical diagnostic assessment (CDA)) involves the following components as outlined by the B.C diagnostic standards:
- File review of medical and school documents (e.g., school report cards, assessments from other health providers if applicable)
- Clinical intake with parents/caregivers: A semi-structured interview will be conducted with the child’s main caregivers in order to collect information about the child’s birth and developmental history (e.g., age when they took their first steps, age when they spoke their first words) as well as relevant educational and medical information.
- Autism Diagnostic Interview-Revised (ADI-R): A semi-structured interview will be conducted with the child’s main caregivers. The purpose of this interview is to assess for features of autism that occurred early on in the child’s development (i.e., ages 4-5) and current day.
- Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule – Second Ed. (ADOS-2): This is a play-based semi-structured assessment with your child. The purpose of this assessment is to examine their social communication and interaction and to assess for the presence of restricted/repetitive behaviours.
What to expect in an autism assessment with Dr. Ho:
- Comprehensive: Dr. Ho’s assessments not only satisfy the requirements based on the B.C. Diagnostic standards, but also provides additional information about the child’s developmental/cognitive level and adaptive functioning, which is important for treatment planning.
- Two assessment dates: For most autism assessments, parent interview portions (i.e., clinical interview, adaptive functioning and ADI-R) are completed virtually on a separate day or in-person at the clinic if families prefer. In-person testing is usually completed in the clinic in one day.
- Timely diagnoses and feedback: Research shows that children who obtain an early diagnosis and early intervention obtain optimal outcomes. With majority of the assessments, she can provide families with the diagnostic outcome on the same day as in-person testing. In exceptional cases (i.e., requirement for additional testing or information from other sources), feedback is completed as soon as possible to not delay access to intervention and funding.
- Meaningful and easy-to-read reports: Given Dr. Ho’s research in the diagnostic process of autism and parent experiences, she understands the importance of writing meaningful and useful reports for parents so that it can be used to access appropriate school services and other interventions. Reports are generally completed within 4 weeks of the feedback session.
Not sure if an autism assessment is the right step?
Dr. Ho is currently providing brief consultation services for parents who are unsure whether they would like to seek autism services. It is highly suggested that families first discuss their concerns with their child’s family doctor prior to obtaining a brief consultation session. It is also recommended that parents put their child on a waitlist for an assessment (public and/or private) while waiting for a brief consultation, in order to not delay assessment.
The purpose of a brief consultation is for parents to obtain a more in-depth understanding of what autism is and is not, provide areas of functioning that parents can observe in their child to help with their decision-making, and discuss whether certain interventions may be helpful for their child while they wait for further assessment. The purpose of this brief consultation is not for diagnostic purposes and Dr. Ho will be unable to comment specifically on diagnoses.
If you are interested in obtaining a brief consultation and/or an autism assessment, please contact us at https://cornerstonepsychology.ca/contact/.