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SLU Offers Autism Evaluations Services to Metro Area Families

by Bridjes O'Neil on 01/08/2021
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Bridjes O'Neil
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ST. LOUIS – Families seeking an evaluation to determine whether their child has a medical diagnosis of autism have another option in the greater St. Louis metropolitan area. 

That option is the Interdisciplinary Center for Autism Services in the School of Education at Saint Louis University (SLU), said Director Diane Richter, Ph.D., an assistant clinical professor at SLU.  

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Diane Richter, Ph.D.,  is the director of SLU's Interdisciplinary Center for Autism Services. SLU photo.

The Center provides comprehensive diagnostic assessments of autism for K-12 children. The extensive evaluation process is not a one size fits all, but rather is tailored to meet a client's needs, Richter said. Evaluations ​typically include a clinical interview, autism diagnostic observation schedule 2 (ADOS-2) and/or Child Autism Rating Scale, ​academic achievement assessments, ​speech and language assessments, fine and gross motor assessments, multiple rating scales, school observations, and an interdisciplinary  ​feedback team meeting.

For children who currently have a medical diagnosis of autism, the Center provides recommendations for educational programming and a functioning assessment plan.

Through an interdisciplinary approach, the Center combines the expertise of multiple departments and programs that include psychology, communication sciences and disorders, special education, nursing, applied behavior analysis, occupational and physical therapy. 

“Our commitment to learning from each other benefits our clients as we strive to provide the most accurate diagnosis and meaningful recommendations,” said Amy Hasman, an occupational therapist at the Center and adjunct faculty member at SLU’s Doisy College of Health Sciences (DCHS).   

It is also a teaching center. University students, like Peter Lenz, benefit through their involvement in the assessment process working under the direction and guidance of faculty members from their specific disciplines.

“Most importantly, I get to work with a population that I am extremely passionate about and hope to work with throughout my future career,” said Lenz, an undergraduate occupational therapy student at DCHS. 

The clinic collaborates with Knights of Columbus Developmental Center at SSM Health Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital to connect families to a developmental pediatrician, their PEERS program, and meet the needs of clients from birth to five years old. They also partner with autism centers nationwide. 

Clinic Bridges Gap between Evaluation and Autism Diagnosis

After a child receives a diagnosis of autism, the Center distinguishes itself by helping families with advocacy. 

“We support our families through the Individualized Education Program (IEP) process as they work with the school to better support the needs of their children,” said Robin Murphy, a speech and language clinician at the Center and assistant professor in communication sciences and disorders at DCHS.

For clients already receiving services through the school, the Center assists families with initiating a review of existing data, meeting to determine if additional accommodations and modifications are needed. For those without services, the Center works with families and school administrators to identify whether a child qualifies for an educational diagnosis under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). 

Richter says families are unaware of all the services their child is entitled to under IDEA, a federal law that guarantees a free appropriate public education to eligible children with disabilities. 

“Our team builds a relationship with the family that goes beyond the diagnosis to provide a support system that includes attendance at school meetings, connecting families to resources in the community, and providing educational materials,” Richter said.

The Center, which opened in July 2019, is currently open three days a week and plans to expand its services during the spring of 2021. Launched with SLU Grow Grant funds, the Center continues to pursue foundation and research grants to meet the needs of families.

Watch a video to learn more. To schedule an appointment, contact the clinic at 314-977-5377 or slucenterforautism@slu.edu.

About Saint Louis University

Founded in 1818, Saint Louis University is one of the nation’s oldest and most prestigious Catholic institutions. Rooted in Jesuit values and its pioneering history as the first university west of the Mississippi River, SLU offers more than 12,000 students a rigorous, transformative education of the whole person. At the core of the University’s diverse community of scholars is SLU’s service-focused mission, which challenges and prepares students to make the world a better, more just place.