Parents Wait Months for Autism Diagnosis


SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — KOLR10 investigates how long wait times are affecting kids in line to be diagnosed with autism – in some cases, for years. We met with two local families, who found relief through a Mercy pediatrician, joining forces with the Thompson Center in Columbia to take matters into her own hands.

Two families, each with a toddler boy, both looking for an autism diagnosis. But as the Ramsays and the McGills can tell you, no two cases of autism look alike.

“At age 2, we kind of started noticing that maybe we were just slightly different,” Amanda McGill, mom to Ian, said.

The Ramsays signs began showing much sooner in their son Isaac.

“Well we noticed at 12 months, when he wasn’t responding to his nam,e that was one of our first clues,” Angie Ramsay said.

As the families began to look for help, Mercy Pediatrician Dr. Laura Waters explains that not enough specialists to diagnose autism, combined with growing numbers of kids being diagnosed, means a long road ahead for most parents.

“Children who have concerns that there might be cancer, you’re getting in to see a specialist in 24 hours,” Waters said. “But for a family that has developmental concerns that their child might have autism, they have to live with those fears and concerns for months.”

Waters voluntarily took up training for a program called ECHO Autism. She’s the only pediatrician in Springfield, and one of three in the Mercy system who’s recognized by the state to be able to diagnose autism in toddlers.

“So basically the way it works is, we go through about a year-long training process, where every about two weeks we get onto a, like a conference call, and we discuss a patient that’s been presented from someone in the group that we have concerns that could have autism,” Waters said.

Two weeks is just a fraction of the months the Ramsays waited for Isaac’s diagnosis, only to lose their spot in line.

“We received a letter that they had canceled his diagnostic screening at a local center here, without any explanation,” Angie Ramsay said. “But they gave a list of other places that were all out of the area, so that was devastating news.”

Brad Ramsay, Isaac’s dad, remembers the waiting game.

“At that point, I’m going to say we were about 99% sure of what his diagnosis was going to be, so it was even more frustrating to have to wait for a formal diagnosis before our insurance or anything would cover anything that might help him,” Brad Ramsay said.

Both Ian and Isaac can now get the therapies they need.

“For me at least, it made sense, it helped me make sense of him and be calmer around him, when I knew he’s not acting out, or maybe there’s a reason why he is the way he is,” McGill said.

And while no look can describe the pain in seeing Isaac develop slower than his twin sister, nor any words to tell to the joy of seeing him progress, there are three that come pretty close.

“Today I was home, and I got to witness him complete at 12-piece puzzle and that was pretty cool, and he said ‘ready, set, go’ as he played with his cars,” Angie Ramsay said. “Those were words that we hadn’t heard in a while, so it was nice to hear his voice again.”

If you’re on a waiting list and need some help, there are local organizations to provide support as well, like Parents as Teachers and First Steps.

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