CINCINNATI — April is Autism Awareness Month. About one in 44 children has been identified with autism spectrum disorder, according to the CDC. The diagnosis is often the first step for families to get the tools they need to help their kids, but some local families say getting it is not easy.
Southgate mom Hannah Robinson noticed something was different for one of her daughters early on.
“We just noticed, you know, a few little things,” she said. “Nothing major, but sometimes it would make it hard for her.”
Her daughter was already in occupational therapy when the family was told it might be a good idea to see a psychologist.
Robinson started trying to make appointments last summer, but said most clinics would not accept her insurance. Others were too far away or had months-long wait lists.
“Everybody told me it was going to be difficult going into it, but I did not think it was gonna be that difficult,” Robinson said.
She said it was not until April of this year that a psychologist diagnosed her daughter with autism. Now, she says her daughter needs another evaluation to confirm the diagnosis at school to ensure additional counseling.
“I was making probably a couple dozen calls a day,” she said.
Robinson was able to get her daughter the appointment for the second evaluation, but it’s nine months and a 90-minute drive away.
“Nobody wants to see their kids struggle because you can't help them because you don't know what to do,” Robinson said.
One expert said the roadblocks are not necessarily uncommon.
“There’s a lot of need out there,” said Sheri Weithman, the Director of Development in Ohio for Autism Speaks. “Even though we're getting a lot of providers in the areas, you know, there's still a greater need than we can fill.”
Weithman said resources are increasing. Autism Speaks, which is a research and advocacy organization, has compiled many of them online in this guide. The organization’s M-CHAT-R (Modified Checklist for Autism in Toddlers, Revised) tool offers a screener on a child’s behavior. The organization also provides free, personalized support through its Autism Response Team, which can be accessed by phone at 1-888-AUTISM2 (1-888-288-4762) or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“One of the trickiest things with having a child on the spectrum is it can feel very isolating,” Weithman said. “I would want parents to know out there that there's a whole community surrounding you.”
Robinson said some people are afraid the diagnosis is going to change their child.
“It doesn't change anything about who they are. It's just now you're getting them the tools that they need to be more successful," Robinson said.