As the number of autism diagnoses increases each year, so do the fears of parents and the need to see specialists. During the past few years, not only has the COVID-19 pandemic put a hold on autism diagnoses, it has put a strain on parents getting the right treatment for their kids.
The different signs of autism in children such as isolating themselves during playtime, often avoiding eye contact, or not responding to their name when called are more obvious in a school setting where certain behavior is taught and expected to be reciprocated.
With children spending most of their time at home during the pandemic, becoming aware of these signals has become much harder, causing some families to isolate themselves from others and struggle to get an autism diagnosis.
Chiara Graver, a Behavioral Analyst at Cleveland Clinic, iterates: “Because of our current situation with the pandemic, something that we’re seeing a lot, is that you’re not around as many kids. You’re not out. Parents don’t have as many examples of children to know; are they just playing alone because they haven’t had a playmate in two years or are they just not interested in other people because they’re very shy and don’t know a lot of people outside of the family?”
Graver emphasizes the importance of early intervention and also mentions: “If you are concerned about your child’s behavior, it’s best to talk to their pediatrician who can then refer you to a specialist.”
The waiting list to see specialists in the United States
Unfortunately, seeing a specialist has become increasingly difficult. It is not uncommon to have to wait months to see a specialist in the U.S. A pediatrician may be able to recognise the signs of autism in a child but insurance providers will only cover treatment if the diagnosis comes from a specialist, and even then the waiting list for these specialists can span months. Even though many of these professionals train for an even longer period than pediatricians or psychiatrists, their earning potential is a lot less, meaning you might have to travel to larger cities in order to get a diagnosis or regular treatment.
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“If we solely rely on specialists, we’re setting ourselves up for failure because there aren’t enough of us. We need the insurance companies on board,” said Dr. Sharief Taraman, a Pediatric Neurologist and President of the Orange County, California, chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics.
It is of great importance that children on the autism spectrum get the treatment they need while they are still in their early years but, unfortunately the pandemic led to everything being put on hold, making the waiting time to get a diagnosis or treatment even longer.
According to a rough estimate by Judith Miller, Clinical Training Director in the Center for Autism Research at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia: “The wait time to access a specialist who can diagnose a child with autism in the U.S. can be anywhere between two and 18 months.”
Loss of work for autism therapists
Many families stopped their in-house treatment for fear of infection during COVID-19, leading to budget cuts and downsizing of the companies that provide the in-house care. In-house therapists create bonds with their patients that take time to foster. Many of these therapists either lost their jobs due to downsizing or were not willing to see patients during a pandemic, affecting families who are heavily reliant on these treatments.
Insurance company support
Sadly, it is not only the pandemic that has held families from getting diagnoses and treatment for their kids. Insurance companies stipulate all the treatments your autistic child may get but they may not cover all the treatments your child may need. If your child needs extra treatment that isn’t covered by insurance, you may need to pay out of pocket.
To end off
It is sad to realize there are so many families waiting their turn to get an autism diagnosis or access treatment. Families are facing difficulty at every turn, not only because of the pandemic, but because of insurance companies. Families are having to fight tooth and nail to get treatment for their kids where there are so many other disorders that are given priority with simpler measures to get treatment in place. With the massive increase of autism diagnoses each year, there should be a much easier process for families to get help for their loved ones.
How the Pandemic has Impacted the Diagnosis of Autism.(2022, March 31).Cleveland Clinic: Newsroom https://newsroom.clevelandclinic.org/2022/03/31/how-the-pandemic-has-impacted-autism-diagnoses/
Miller, A & Gold, J.(2022, March 30). Delays for Autism Diagnosis and Treatment Grew Even Longer During the Pandemic.KHN https://khn.org/news/article/delays-for-autism-diagnosis-and-treatment-grew-even-longer-during-the-pandemic/
Nouvelle, C.(2022, April 4). As Autism Rates Increase, So Do Wait Times To See A Specialist. 90.5 WESA https://www.wesa.fm/health-science-tech/2022-04-04/as-autism-rates-increase-so-do-wait-times-to-see-a-specialist