Optimizing the Early Years - Winner - BC Autism Assessment Network

A quality improvement project aimed at achieving earlier diagnoses of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is leading to better quality care for affected children in BC. 

The British Columbia Autism Assessment Network (BCAAN) launched the Streamlined Assessment Program (SAP) to address a growing need for timelier assessments, particularly among minimally verbal children aged less than 43 months, whose symptoms clearly indicated concerns related to ASD. This was significant, because the earlier the ASD diagnosis, the earlier the access to interventions – which leads to better health outcomes for affected children.  

“The streamlined assessment project has allowed us to use our resources and expertise to provide more timely autism assessments to preschool children who may greatly benefit from early interventions,” says physician Angie Ip, the program’s medical director. 

One of the SAP’s pivotal achievements is its remarkable efficiency. By targeting minimally verbal children in this age group, the program has drastically reduced assessment wait times: within the first six months of its implementation, 37 assessments in the project revealed a 28.4% decrease in wait times. This outcome means that families no longer need to endure long periods of uncertainty, where their child’s developmental needs are unclear. Instead, they gain swifter access to support and resources necessary for their child’s well-being. 

Beyond the efficiencies its gained, the SAP has also been shown to have high levels of satisfaction among patients, families, and BCAAN clinicians alike. A reported 97% of families expressed satisfaction or high satisfaction with the diagnostic process. This approval reflects not only the reduced wait times but also the improved experience of families navigating the assessment journey. It underscores the program’s commitment to prioritizing the needs and well-being of those it serves. 

By enabling shorter clinical appointments for the target age group, BCAAN was also able to expand its capacity to assess more children at a younger age. The program’s innovative approach has resulted in a 90% increase in the number of assessments completed in the quality improvement project.  

But the significance of the SAP goes beyond the statistics. Early identification and diagnosis of autism represent crucial milestones in a child’s life. It opens doors to early intervention services, which have been shown to be especially impactful in supporting children with ASD. In BC, many essential services and supports are closely tied to a formal diagnosis, making early diagnosis even more critical. Through the SAP, BCAAN has paved the way for more children with autism to access these vital supports and services. 

The SAP program’s success has Implications beyond the borders of British Columbia. Across Canada, many provinces and territories grapple with long waitlists for autism assessments. The SAP program is an example of how innovative approaches within autism assessments can lead to more timely and effective care delivery. Its relevance extends to health care systems across the nation, offering insights and inspiration for those seeking to overcome similar challenges.