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Edmonton autism organization offers screening for children after COVID

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“We think there are a number of kids who have just been lost in the shuffle, lost in the pandemic”

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The head of Edmonton’s largest children’s autism service organization says there is a backlog of children who need to be assessed for developmental disabilities after the past two years of the pandemic.

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Children’s Autism Services of Edmonton (CASE) executive director Terri Duncan said typical pathways for screening and referral were nearly non-existent for long stretches of Alberta’s battle with COVID-19. His organization plans to use a nearly $30,000 grant from Autism Speaks Canada to help 100 families get assessments and support.

Children up to the age of three can be assessed.

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“We think there are a number of kids who have just been lost in the shuffle, lost in the pandemic,” Duncan said Friday.

“We don’t want these children to continue to go unnoticed, to be underserved.”

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Not only have sweeping public health measures kept families at home without their normal community connections, but speech-language pathologists who perform autism spectrum disorder assessments have sometimes been redeployed to help with COVID-19 testing and other work. on the pandemic.

“Families, over the past two years, really haven’t had access to professionals who can do developmental screening and refer children to the services they need,” Duncan said.

Families with children born just before or during the arrival of COVID in Alberta who may have concerns about their child’s development and communication may not have immediate access to the right supports.

Duncan, who is also a speech-language pathologist, said there are several red flags that should prompt parents to seek an autism assessment. By age two, you would typically expect a child to say about 50 words and be able to string two or three words together into sentences. If they’ve turned two and still don’t say anything, they should be seen.

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There may also be signs to watch out for even earlier. Children can usually communicate nonverbally with gestures like waving and pointing by age one, and Duncan said it’s also worth noting if the child doesn’t respond to their name when called. he is called or if he seems more interested in objects than people – they would rather examine parts of a toy than look at someone’s face.

“If we see enough red flags, we need to incorporate them into certain services and interventions,” Duncan said.

Sometimes children are just “late speakers” and their communication skills will catch up on their own, but speech therapists can tell if this is the case or if the child is showing early signs of autism. Getting services to help them learn to cope and communicate as early as possible in life can be crucial.

“When you diagnose kids early, you can actually change the trajectory of autism so that kids get older, they have a strong foundation of communication, and that improves their quality of life,” Duncan said.

“We’re not looking to ‘fix’ autism or make it go away.”

Duncan said CASE assessments will be offered on a first-come, first-served basis. Families wishing to have their child seen can find the contact details of the organization on autismkids.ca.

[email protected]

Twitter: @meksmith

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