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Encouraging Next Steps

Parents and primary care physicians need to work together throughout the referral and intervention process. In many states, the access to specialists can be limitted and the wait to see such resources can be long. Primary care physicians often remain a vital point of care for patients with autism. You can help the family make the right choices and access proper services.

  • Acknowledge parent’s fear and grief
  • Provide information on how to tell others
  • Provide parent with information on the referral sources
  • Encourage communication
  • Set a follow-up appointment

First, ask the parent’s permission to make the first call to any referral agency. Parents may be afraid of bad news or situations they can’t control. Acknowledge their fears, and anticipate that the family might have “cold feet” and avoid your recommendations for referral and further evaluation. Also when parents do receive a confirmed diagnosis of autism for their child, they may go through a grieving process.

As the primary care physician, you must support them through this and encourage communication. Help connect them to support groups and other services in their community for families with autistic children. Always provide the parent with as much information on the referral as you can.

Phone numbers, descriptions of the referral service or provider, and written documentation of the screening results are crucial. If your practice refers children to the provider or agency frequently, offer personal comments about your trust in them and the quality work they do. The more information you give them, the more you can demystify the process for them and empower them to participate in the process.

Finally, consider a follow up appointment between 1 and 3 months later, after the evaluation, to discuss the results and the child’s condition. Make a plan to follow up with the agency or specialist you referred the child to and continue to serve as the child’s “medical home.”

First Signs

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Tiny gene mutations, each individually rare, pose more risk for autism than had been previously thought, suggests a study funded in part by NIMH.

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Richard, Age 54