BUFFALO, N.Y. - For families with a child on the autism
spectrum, early intervention is the mantra. The earlier their child
is diagnosed, the sooner intervention can start, making a
tremendous difference in the life of both the child and family.
But early diagnosis depends on early evaluation and in too many
cities, there just aren’t enough specialists to provide
efficient diagnoses; most children show signs of autism spectrum
disorder before they are three years old.
“In many places, it can take seven to nine months to get a
diagnosis,” explains Michelle Hartley-McAndrew, MD, clinical
assistant professor of child neurology at the University at Buffalo
and medical director of The Children’s Guild Foundation
Autism Spectrum Disorder Center at Women & Children's Hospital
of Buffalo. “Seven to nine months is a lifetime for a parent
to wait for a diagnosis with a child that young. Here at the
center, we are working very hard to keep the waiting time
Now, thanks to the center’s expanded schedule of clinics,
which started in March, more Western New York families with
children on the autism spectrum are receiving faster diagnoses.
While each case varies, the typical wait until the first
appointment is three months with follow-up diagnosis taking place
between one and three months afterward, depending on the need for
Located at Women & Children’s Hospital of Buffalo and
run by the hospital and UB, the center now operates two weekly
evaluation clinics, allowing for the diagnosis of more than 450
children annually, up from 275.
“Autism is such a difficult diagnosis,” says
Hartley-McAndrew, noting that proper diagnosis often depends on
multiple evaluations by specialists, including a pediatric
neurologist, a psychologist and a developmental pediatrician.
“The idea was to make the whole process, from diagnosis to
treatment plan, faster, more efficient and less difficult for the
family and the patient,” she continues. “Doctors’
appointments are difficult for these children, so we thought, you
need a one stop shop. We schedule the children for their three
appointments to happen one after the other.”
In addition to the doctors’ visits, the center requires
that parents and teachers complete extensive questionnaires if the
child is in school or daycare. The team of specialists at the
center then discusses each patient individually and makes a
Once a diagnosis is made, the family can take advantage of a
multidisciplinary array of resources provided at, or through, the
“I always had a place in my heart for children with
disabilities,” notes Hartley-McAndrew. That concern is
evident for the families the center serves and the emotional
journey that they undertake when they first suspect something is
wrong with their child, who, after developing normally, becomes
She recounts: “Parents will tell me, ‘My daughter
used to come running up to me when I came home, saying, Mommy!
Mommy!’ Now she just spins.’”
Hartley-McAndrew’s motivation was to create one central
place for families so they always knew exactly where to go with all
of their concerns.
“Our vision was to be there in as many ways as possible
for our families,” says Hartley-McAndrew.
“Parents have no idea how to navigate what’s out there.
So when we started the center in 2009, we visited as many other
centers as we could, to see what works and what’s
The result is one of the most comprehensive autism centers in
the U.S., among the first in the U.S. to diagnose and treat
children with this complex and increasingly prevalent disorder
using a family-focused, multi-disciplinary approach.
In addition to medical specialists and social workers, the
center emphasizes connections among parents. Among other services,
it operates a very popular Autism Spectrum Disorders Parent Group.
Led by the center’s program coordinator and a parent of a
child with autism, the group meets monthly to share
The center also collaborates with Explore & More
Children’s Museum to create “Au-Some Evenings,”
one evening per month where children with autism spectrum disorders
and their families can learn and play together in an understanding
and supportive environment, free of charge. Over 100 people attend
the evenings on a regular basis.
Services provided by the center and listed at the center’s
web site include resources for parents and teachers, such as
helpful tips on how to toilet train a child with autism and even a
list of local haircutting shops that are experienced in dealing
with children with special needs.
For more information, go to http://www.wchob.org/autism.