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AnglicareSA Disability and Wellbeing Services’ new Autism Diagnostic Service is meeting a growing need in the early identification of autism spectrum disorder.

As a leader in the provision of therapeutic supports to children and young people with disability in South Australia, AnglicareSA launched the pilot program at the start of 2023, and 12 months on it is being hailed as a success.

Clinical Lead and Diagnostician, Liliana Claassen, said four years ago she and another speech pathologist based at the Daphne Street Autism-Specific Early Learning and Care Centre did some training focused on diagnostic assessments and identified a gap in services available to the community.

“We work in the early childhood learning space and had a lot of experience with children waiting for diagnostic assessment, so we set about establishing a program that would work for AnglicareSA and address our professional needs as well,” she said.

“At the moment in the public system people are waiting around two to three years for that crucial assessment.

“Private providers are a lot quicker to get into but they still have wait lists, so we were to be able to reduce those wait times through our services, get people in as soon as possible, and get that diagnostic outcome and they can then access support services.”

The assessment includes a play-based observation and standardised assessments as well as a parent interview.

Information gathered, results from assessments, and observations are considered against the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders – Fifth Edition (DSM-V) to determine if the child meets the criteria for diagnosis.

The diagnostic report can be used to support an application for NDIS funding so that the child can receive appropriate supports to help them thrive.

Liliana said during the initial six-month first phase of the pilot seven assessments were completed, with the goal to complete the process from inquiry through to delivery of the assessment within 12 weeks.

“All assessments were achieved ahead of that 12-week target, and we had really positive feedback from customers around quality of services,” she said.

“We also looked at how we could implement this program fully while maintaining our existing workloads and we were able to able to that within fewer hours than we were expecting.”

The program was such a success that an additional therapist was brought on board and a training program developed to build capacity internally to keep the service running.

In 2023, a total of 12 children were diagnosed by AnglicareSA’s trained diagnosticians (speech pathologists) and partnered psychologists.

Feedback from families was overwhelmingly positive in relation to the ease of processes, supports in place, and the sensitive approach.

One parent said: “There is a very real need in the community for this. We waited for more than two years for an assessment, and it was very lucky I ran across this program and was fortunate enough to be accepted.”

AnglicareSA is receiving referrals for assessments in 2024. If you are interested or want further information on the Autism Diagnostic Service, please contact [email protected] or call 1800 953 001.