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Your ATN@Work: A health care model that embraces the whole family

A personal message from the senior director of the Autism Speaks Autism Treatment Network 

By Donna Murray, senior director of the Autism Speaks Autism Treatment Network (ATN).

As senior director of the Autism Speaks ATN, I see firsthand how the network is improving the medical care and services provided to children and families affected by autism. This involves directly working with families and expanding the ability of our medical system to provide whole-person care for patients affected by autism and its many associated health conditions.

I’ve seen the dedication of our clinical and family partners in tackling both medical and community issues. Every day, our clinicians are on the front lines of making diagnoses and providing medical treatment for thousands of children with autism.

They and the families they serve understand the challenges and barriers to access and quality healthcare. In partnership, they enable the ATN to develop guidelines for medical professionals and tool kits for both families and the doctors and therapists who serve them. Our families also help the ATN shape the medical research we need to improve health care for all who are affected by autism.

From this perspective, I would like to introduce you to the ATN Care Model and how it is improving clinical care for children with autism.

The ATN Care Model

As readers of this blog column know well, the ATN care model embodies a comprehensive, coordinated, multidisciplinary approach for providing medical care for children who have autism. It promotes a high standard of coordinated care for the whole child and family.

In this role, an ATN center serves as a nexus of care – a place that models the highest level of clinical care and clinical expertise and also serves as a resource for families, community physicians, behavioral practitioners and educational advocates. The ATN center is a cornerstone of the family’s care community. Members of our ATN have committed to continuously developing and implementing this care model in full.

The ATN Care Model is built on the following principles:  

Self-management support to help families define child-specific treatment goals and to develop a whole- child care plan in collaboration with their child’s health care providers.

Shared-decision making that wholly involves parents in all decision making concerning their child’s treatment and ongoing care.

Delivery system design to track ongoing patient progress and ensure regular follow-up on clearly defined goals and desired health outcomes.

Multidisciplinary team care uses the expertise of the full range of professionals necessary for a child’s health care and family support.

Coordination of care for seamless access to specialized therapies, behavioral interventions, community and educational interventions and related resources.

Decision support to ensure that treatments are based on evidence and providers receive on-going education and support in providing care to children with autism. 

Ongoing care
The ATN Care Model is based on the chronic care model. The Chronic Care Model is an organizing framework designed to improve the care of chronic conditions and includes the components listed above. As part of a network, we are continually learning from each other and sharing what we learn within our network and beyond – always with the goal of improving medical care for ALL individuals with autism. As evidence, we have developed more than 20 tool kits for families and professionals, published medical guidelines for conditions frequently associated with autism, and in the last year alone, held more than a thousand outreach and training activities that reached over than 80,000 family members, professionals and community members.

Clinical care research

With federal funding from the US Health Resources and Services Administration, our AIR-P network is researching more effective means to mentor medical providers from underserved areas in providing services to individuals with ASD.

With this goal in mind, the ATN is developing a “care manual,” in consultation with our clinicians and families. When completed, we will use this manual to provide guidance to medical centers outside the ATN that want to develop or enhance programs that improve medical care for patients who have autism and their families. I look forward to sharing more about this manual in the months to come.

We thank the Autism Speaks community for making the commitment to support the work of the ATN.

* 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.