Despite the increasing prevalence of autism, many pediatricians remain ill-equipped to identify and support kids with the developmental disorder, but a new approach may help stem that tide.

New research suggests that a series of two-hour videoconferencing sessions may be enough to significantly boost the capability of working pediatricians to better treat those on the spectrum.

Through a program called ECHO Autism, researchers at the University of Missouri evaluated whether practicing pediatricians could be trained to screen for and treat autism in a series of remote training sessions.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

Over a period of six months, physicians participated in 12 biweekly videoconferencing sessions where they learned how to spot the developmental disorder and address its medical and psychiatric impact. Sessions were led by experts at an academic center including a pediatrician specializing in autism, a clinical psychologist, a child and adolescent psychiatrist, a dietician, a social worker and a parent of a child with ASD.

Ultimately, after participating in the training, doctors were twice as likely to screen their patients for autism in accordance with professional recommendations, according to findings published recently in the journal Clinical Pediatrics.

What’s more, participants reported increased confidence and were more likely to apply autism-specific resources in addressing issues ranging from aggression to diet and neurological symptoms affecting their patients.

“Currently there are not enough specialists to manage the number of children with autism who need health care,” said Micah Mazurek, an assistant professor of health psychology at the University of Missouri who led the study. “A real need exists to assist community-based health care providers as they help families get the answers they need without traveling or waiting to see a specialist.”

The findings could be especially meaningful for those living in less-populated areas where access to specialists can be limited, researchers said.

Further study of the ECHO Autism model is now expanding to 10 additional academic centers across the United States and Canada.