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Autism Speaks Autism Treatment Network expands telehealth outreach

ECHO Autism project will provide autism training to doctors across North America and overseas

New funding for the Autism Speaks Autism Treatment Network (ATN) will expand ECHO® Autism, a successful telehealth program launched in March of this year. The funding comes from the US Human Resources and Services Administration.

ECHO stands for Extension for Community Healthcare Outcomes. The approach uses multi-site videoconferencing to pair specialists at major medical centers with community healthcare providers to spread specialist knowledge and increasing access to expert care in rural areas and other underserved communities.

ECHO Autism is a successful adaptation of the program, linking ATN specialists with pediatricians and other primary-care providers in distant communities.

The funding to expand the ECHO Autism project comes from the ATN’s federally funded role as the nation’s Autism Intervention Research Network for Physical Health (AIR-P). The grant was made possible through the Autism CARES Act of 2014. It places a priority on patient-centered research that improves health, with a special focus on improving services to children with autism from underserved communities.

ATN pediatrician Kristin Sohl piloted ECHO Autism at the University of Missouri Thompson Center for Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disorders. The Thompson Center is one of 14 specialty clinics in the Autism Speaks ATN.

During the pilot phase, Thompson Center specialists provided trainings and consultations to doctors in rural Missouri and other underserved communities across the country. These trainings also included feedback from a parent of a child who has autism.

Now Dr. Sohl will lead ECHO Autism’s expansion to include specialists at an additional ten ATN centers across North America.

ECHO Autism’s goal is to bring many more primary-care providers up to speed on medical and psychiatric conditions that frequently co-occur with autism. These include gastrointestinal problems, sleep disorders, epilepsy, restricted eating and overeating, anxiety, attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and behavioral challenges. Each participating site will assemble an interdisciplinary team of experts to deliver the comprehensive telehealth training.

By helping more community doctors become comfortable treating children who have autism, ECHO Autism reduces the need for families to travel to distant specialty centers – such as those in the ATN – for relatively routine matters, Dr. Sohl explains. This will also reduce waiting times for those whose complex needs truly require care at an autism clinic.

"The ECHO Autism model will improve early identification of autism and increase screening and treatment of common co-occurring conditions in the primary care setting, particularly in underserved communities," Dr. Sohl says. "I’m excited to continue this work aimed at changing the landscape for autism care across North America.”

Joining Missouri’s Thompson Center, the new sites will include:

Arkansas Children’s Hospital

Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia

Cincinnati Children’s Medical Center

University of Pittsburgh Medical Center

University of Rochester

Lurie Center for Autism (Boston)

Vanderbilt University Medical Center (Nashville)

Nationwide Children’s Hospital (Columbus, Ohio)

The Center for Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disorders at the University of California, Irvine

Holland Bloorview Kids Rehab (Toronto)

Dr. Sohl wrote about the initial launch of ECHO Autism in the ATN@Work column earlier this year. 

See “Your ATN@Work: Increasing Autism Expertise among Primary Care Doctors.

Liver specialist Sanjeev Arora developed the ECHO model at the University of New Mexico to serve the needs of hepatitis C patients who had no access to treatment where they lived. For more on the ECHO model, see the video below.





* Learn more about the Autism Speaks Autism Treatment Network here.
* Find the ATN center nearest you 
* Explore our archive of ATN expert-advice blogs and news stories 

The Autism Speaks blog features opinions from people throughout the autism community. Each blog represents the point of view of the author and does not necessarily reflect Autism Speaks' beliefs or point of view.