Program looks to improve healthcare for adolescents with autism

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COLUMBIA – ECHO Autism, a virtual learning network of health providers, is working to train health care providers to overcome roadblocks when treating adolescents with autism.

“A significant part of adulthood is managing health care, which includes regular trips to the doctor, following treatment plans, and being aware of symptoms and changes in health,” said Nancy Cheak-Zamora, an assistant professor in the MU School of Health Professions. “This can be especially challenging for adolescents and young adults with autism.”

An MU study finds that there is a lack of developed health care transition services for not only adolescents, but the caregivers and providers also. MU released a statement on Wednesday that said the problems act as a barrier to independence for adolescents and caregivers feel they lack the skills necessary to support them.

“Many caregivers said they felt forced to remain involved in their adolescent’s care, even when their goal for the adolescents was independence,” Cheak-Zamora said.

The statement said communication between providers, adolescents, and their caregivers is the key to helping those with autism transition to independence.MU released a second statement on Thursday that explored options to improving health care for children with autism.

Long wait times and travel costs are among issues families with autistic adolescents face when seeking health care. To address these issues, ECHO Autism, an MU program, trains primary care providers to better diagnose and manage autism spectrum disorders.

“The program effectively increases the capacity for health care in under served communities,” Dr. Kristin Sohl said. “Which means that families can get the answers they need without traveling or waiting to see a specialist.”

ECHO Autism is preparing to expand with partner sites serving Alabama, Alaska and under-served Navajo communities in New Mexico and Arizona.