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Nebraska: Children on waitlist for a year for ASD assessment

Jan 4, 2023,  KETV, Omaha: Nebraska families waiting months for comprehensive autism evaluation 
According to the Centers for Disease and Control Prevention, the prevalence of autism spectrum disorder in children is on the rise, and doctors said so is the demand for evaluations, and families are frustrated.

Annie Messina said her family first began the process of scheduling a comprehensive evaluation for her son in December 2022, and it wasn't until last week they received an appointment date.

"He's been on the waitlist since April for just the main assessment," Messina said. "Prior to that, the wait list for the telehealth is about five to six months just waiting on that."

Messina's 7-year-old son, Aiden, has been waiting for an autism evaluation for over a year, and the Messinas aren't alone.

"We absolutely are seeing a significant demand for these comprehensive evaluations," Dr. Katy Menousek, licensed psychologist and board certified behavior analyst at Boys Town, said.

Director of Munroe-Meyer Institute's Integrated Center for Autism Spectrum Disorders, Dr. Alice Shillingsburg, said they evaluate around 25 children each month, and Menousek said she's seeing between 40 and 50 children per month for a comprehensive evaluation. And nationally, according to the CDC, one in 36 eight-year-old children will be diagnosed with autism. That's up from one in 44 in 2018.

"Currently, they're getting put on a waitlist," Menousek said. "So we're not calling them until about six weeks before the appointment is available."

Those waitlists are anywhere from six months to a year-long, and it's a wait Messina knows all too well....

Menousek said she believes the pandemic and the impact of social media have led to more demand for evaluations and longer wait lists.

"Pre-pandemic, it went from three to six months, and now it's more averaging six to nine months to a year," Menousek said. "I think Facebook and TikTok have really opened the doors for people to understand the subtle early signs of autism."...

"One of the most evidence-based intervention procedures that are available for individuals with autism, particularly early in childhood, is called applied behavior analysis or ABA," Shillingsburg said. "And typically accessing ABA services does require a diagnosis of autism."

Without an official autism diagnosis, insurance can limit the amount of therapy a child can receive.

"Sometimes some insurance covers like 12 speech therapy sessions a year," Menousek said. "But if you get that diagnosis of autism, it moves to 48."

Leaving families limited options, other than to wait.

"If he's not getting some of the resources and not getting some, we're not getting some of the education to help with these things that could be harder to deal with in the future," ....

Neither doctor could say if these waitlists are expected to shrink anytime soon.


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