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Calls to Action

New Directions for Autism Speaks Autism Treatment Network

Posted by Clara Lajonchere, PhD, Autism Speaks vice president of clinical programs

We are rapidly approaching our third, three-year round of funding the Autism Speaks Autism Treatment Network (AS-ATN). I am thrilled to tell you how we’re going to use this opportunity to dramatically broaden the reach of our whole-child, family-centered autism care model.

When Autism Speaks merged with Cure Autism Now in 2007, we grew our network of comprehensive autism care centers from 5 to 15. In 2010, with our second round of funding, we expanded to 17 member centers across the United States and Canada.

At the same time, we attracted significant funding – $24 million total – from the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) to support the research and dissemination activities of the network. In essence, the HRSA funding has matched our investment dollar for dollar each year.

Over the last six years, we’ve concentrated on refining our care model. At the same time, we helped develop the best, evidence-based assessment and treatment guidelines for autism and its associated medical conditions.

Transforming Autism Care in Surrounding Communities
But with more than 1 in 88 individuals affected by autism, we would need more than a thousand ATN centers to take care of all our kids. This is why our new strategic plan focuses on using our centers to expand access to the AS-ATN care model through collaborative partnerships. These partnerships will involve healthcare provider networks in each center’s surrounding communities and state.  We want no less than to raise the bar for autism care among all pediatric healthcare providers.

To accomplish this, our 2013 call for AS-ATN grant applications asks university medical centers and hospitals to present innovative plans for actively involving primary care providers. This will lead to better and more-accessible community care. At the same time, it will allow faster access to specialized diagnostic and evaluation services in AS-ATN centers. These programs can include tele-health technologies, fellowships for primary care doctors and other forms of outreach.

Enduring Focal Points of Expertise
Our centers will serve as resources for doctors and other healthcare professionals who want to provide the best care for our children and families. At the same time, they will remain focal points of specialist expertise. As always, they will continue to provide diagnostic and evaluation services as well as enhanced family support.

In particular, we are calling on centers to develop new and improved programs for helping families plan for the transition from adolescence to adulthood. We must do a better job helping our families as their children age out of the pediatric care system.

In summary, as we focus on expanding access to the AS-ATN comprehensive care model, we are looking for increased collaboration with the primary care community, an expansion of education and training efforts, increased family support and greater incorporation of transition planning.

As always, we welcome your input and questions. Please contact us at ATN@autismspeaks.org