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Autism on the increase

Ashleigh Adkins, ARNP with pediatric patient

Provider receives special training to identify children at high risk. 

Family Medicine provider Ashleigh Adkins, DNP-FNP, ARNP has been watching closely as autism cases among children are increasing worldwide. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, autism now affects one in 44 children in the United States, highlighting the need for early diagnosis and screening. 

“Those numbers are climbing at a very quick rate,” Adkins said. “I think that’s why we’re seeing providers becoming more and more in tune with diagnosing, or at least being able to recognize, children who are high risk for autism.”

n 2020, Adkins completed specialized autism training and earned the Seattle Children’s Center of Excellence Autism Certificate, which allows providers to diagnose autism in pediatric patients. The training is focused on the latest research into evaluation, treatment and care for patients with autism.

Autism spectrum disorder refers to a range of conditions, characterized by challenges with repetitive behaviors, social skills, speech and nonverbal communication. “Autism is a disability that some children develop that causes significant social, communication and behavioral challenges,” Adkins said, noting the high importance for early diagnosis and screening.

Parents are often the first to notice elements of autism in their children, Adkins said. Screening in primary care involves an assessment called the Modified Checklist for Autism in Toddlers (M-CHAT), which is performed at 18 and 24 months. Once a child is identified at high risk for autism, the primary care provider can refer to a specialist.

Adkins said she enjoys following patients with autism and their families to support them on their journey.

“It’s really difficult for parents when their child first receives this diagnosis. That’s why I love taking care of children with autism and their family, because I know it can be difficult to navigate this new world,” she said. “Autism seems to have its own special club, if you will. And once you’re in the club, then it opens up this whole new world and you really get to see how special children with autism really are.”

Adkins is also able to collaborate with speech and language pathologists at the Skagit Regional Health Children’s Therapy Program to complete a more thorough diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder using play-based therapy and observations.

“I love connecting with parents and being able to share with them and assess the special characteristics that their child has and to assist them with navigating this difficult diagnosis,” Adkins said.

For an appointment, please call 360-657-8840.