A training program designed to teach pediatricians to better identify kids with autism may be an effective way to decrease wait times and flag children with the developmental disorder at younger ages, researchers say.

Currently many children suspected of having autism wait months to see diagnosticians for an evaluation, but researchers say that training community pediatricians to conduct assessments may allow kids to enter treatment programs more quickly.

In a three-year study, researchers at Vanderbilt University trained 27 pediatric providers — including doctors and nurse practitioners — across the state of Tennessee to conduct brief evaluations in their practices of children who screened positive for autism.

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After participating in the two-day trainings, researchers found that the health care providers reached the same diagnostic conclusions as specialists 90 percent of the time. What’s more, providers reported making more autism diagnoses within their practices and said they were more comfortable discussing the developmental disorder.

“The findings provide initial evidence suggesting early accurate diagnosis of autism may be possible and appropriate within many community pediatric practices,” said Amy Swanson of Vanderbilt who was the lead author of the study published online this month in the journal Autism. “Given the potentially harmful consequences of lengthy waits for comprehensive diagnostic evaluations, the potential impact of such training programs for advanced autism diagnosis within community practice settings could be quite powerful.”

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