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Calls to Action

Autism researchers issue call to expand work in low-income countries

New low-cost screening and diagnostic methods open door to autism research and early intervention outside high-income nations
October 13, 2015

An international team of autism researchers and clinicians has issued a call to close the global gap in autism care by embracing new low-cost methods for screening and diagnosis in communities that lack highly trained specialists.

Their call to action – “Autism Screening and Diagnosis in Low Resource Settings: Challenges and Opportunities to Enhance Research and Services Worldwide,” appears online in the journal Autism Research. (Download the full paper here.)

“Thanks to years of collaborative work by members of the International Society for Autism Research, we now have the framework for developing high-quality, open-sourced methods for screening and diagnosing autism in low-resource communities,” explains senior author Andy Shih. Dr. Shih is Autism Speaks’ senior vice president for scientific affairs and leads the organizations Global Autism Public Health (GAPH) initiative.

“These tools are designed to be used by non-specialists,” Dr. Shih says. “They give us a way to overcome one of the biggest barriers to delivering early intervention services worldwide.” This barrier includes the high cost of using the proprietary methods currently used to diagnose autism in high-income countries such as the United States. Clinicians must pay royalties to use these methods, which also require a high degree of training to administer.

In recent years, Autism Speaks has worked with the International Society for Autism Research (INSAR) and the World Health Organization (WHO) to develop and field test open-access methods for identifying autism – methods that can be used by community health workers with little specialized training.

“These tools are the first step in making early diagnosis and intervention feasible and sustainable – both in low-income regions of the world and in underserved communities in nations such as the US,” Dr. Shih says.

Dr. Shih’s GAPH team is also working with the WHO on the global roll-out of a Parent Skills Training program that will empower community workers, parents and other caregivers to provide low-cost intervention services to children who have autism.

See “Autism Speaks and WHO Train 'Master Trainers' from 18 Countries

University of Wisconsin epidemiologist Maureen Durkin is the lead author on the new Autism Research commentary. She and Dr. Shih were joined by 12 additional authors from the INSAR leadership.

Also see:

Identifying autism in disadvantaged regions: Challenges and opportunity

Autism researchers without borders

Autism Speaks and the World Health Organization listens