Screening tool to help nurses diagnose autism earlier

Tags Autism

Posted 11 months ago by Nicole Pope

Children aged up to three years will be monitored during their routine health checks at 12, 18 and 24 months old in order to improve long-term outcomes [Source: Shutterstock]
Children aged up to three years will be monitored during their routine health checks at 12, 18 and 24 months old in order to improve long-term outcomes [Source: Shutterstock]

Thirteen years of intensive research and evaluation has paid off for the team at La Trobe University’s Olga Tennison Autism Research Centre (OTARC), thanks to a helping hand from the Victorian Government.

The university has announced its tool designed to screen autism spectrum disorder (ASD) will be used to on all babies born in Victoria, help identify the condition early and receive life changing intervention.

Children aged up to three years will be monitored during their routine health checks at 12, 18 and 24 months old in order to improve long-term outcomes.

As part of the $1.1 package, Maternal and Child Health (MCH) nurses in Victoria will be provided with specialist training to build their skills in identifying the early signs of ASD in children.

“This is about giving every child every chance to succeed and making sure those living with ASD have the same opportunities as everybody else,” Minister for Early Childhood Education, Jenny Mikakos says.

La Trobe Vice Chancellor Professor John Dewar thanks the State Government for its investment and says the announcement reflects the university’s hard work in helping make a real difference in people’s lives.

“It’s wonderful that the huge benefits of this research for those living with autism and their families will be felt with this significant investment.”

Director of La Trobe’s OTARC, Professor Cheryl Dissanayake says the funding will ensure the identification and improved long-term outcomes of more children with autism.

“We know that children diagnosed at two or younger do considerably better intellectually by school age than those diagnosed at the age of three or later.”

“Early identification and diagnosis enabled those with autism to receive intervention in their early and most important years, with massively improved longer term prospects.”

She says research has shown 82 percent of babies who show early behavioural signs of autism at 12, 18 and 24 months have autism.

Senior Research Fellow at La Trobe’s OTARC, Dr Josephine Barbaro hopes the training will benefit parents through empathetic and supportive nursing care.

“We want to empower the parents as well as the nurses, to prevent the huge gap between parents’ first concerns and a definitive diagnosis, which can often be incredibly frustrating.”

Andrew Whitehouse, Autism CRC Chief Research Officer (CEO) says early identification can play a major role in helping children with autism reach their full potential.

“There is strong evidence that early identification and prompt intervention is important for all neurodevelopmental difficulties,” Mr Whitehouse says. 

“Autism CRC and its participants, such as La Trobe University, are working to develop and implement a national protocol for early identification, assessment and care across Australia.” 

All 1,250 MCH nurses currently delivering the service in Victoria will be offered both online and face-to-face training.

The training has already been rolled out across Tasmania, parts of New South Wales and in many other countries, with a reported 98 percent confidence in identifying the early signs of autism.

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