April 2, 2020

ASD Assessment Clinic at Craigieburn: A family’s experience

Today is World Autism Awareness Day, recognising and raising awareness of people with autism and those who love and support them.

Craigieburn resident and mother of two, Kim Semmens recently shared her experience of Northern Health’s multidisciplinary Northern Autism Spectrum Disorder Assessment Clinic (NASDAC) at Craigieburn Centre – the only one of its kind in Melbourne’s north.

After her eldest son, six year old Archie, was diagnosed with ASD, Kim tells us she monitored her second son, four year old Lenny, for signs of the disorder.

“We knew it might be the case. Once Dr Jolene Fraser decided it was time to progress with an assessment, we were put on a wait list for the new clinic at Craigieburn Centre and, at the time, the wait was approximately six weeks which is extraordinary,” she says.

Kim says for a multidisciplinary diagnosis, children can be assessed by different specialists.

“The ASD Assessment Clinic consisted of a developmental paediatrician, a speech pathologist and occupational therapist. With my first son, I had to do all of those things separately and privately, and each one had different waiting times which can be confusing when dealing with all the different things.”

“With Lenny, we went in and they had all three specialists there. After coming in on a Friday, we had the letter of diagnosis by Monday. It was definitely less stressful for Lenny as he had been to the clinic before and was comfortable. With my older son, he was very overwhelmed with change.”

Dr Jolene Fraser has worked in other multidisciplinary settings and also sees many children with ASD, both publicly and privately.

She said, “as autism is a spectrum, every child is different and can present differently. Some children have obvious significant problems with communication and can be assessed by an experienced paediatrician or child psychiatrist, though even then it is preferred to have input from allied health. In children with more subtle difficulties, the joint assessment is more comprehensive and efficient.”

“A multidisciplinary assessment allows professionals to discuss what is happening for the child and to explore more thoroughly their weakness but more importantly their strengths. Each professional has a slightly different way of looking at the child depending on their background, and this joint assessment is therefore a more accurate representation of all the child’s skills.”

Kim tells us the sooner a diagnosis has been made, the sooner families are able to link in with services.

“Being able to get the diagnosis quickly unlocked a whole heap of services for me to immediately get some really great help and also help for our whole family. The clinic itself also provided us a lot of information about local services and therapists,” Kim says.

“Having a child on the spectrum is a lot to juggle and manage so it simplified the process ridiculously,” she says.

“Every community needs a clinic like this, so I feel very lucky to have access to that. I know firsthand how difficult it is to do all of those things individually. For me and my second son, it was such a better experience and I feel we were able to get a really accurate assessment of him because he was really calm and feeling comfortable.”

Kim says early intervention is so important for a child’s development – “parents are dying to give their kids that intervention but they sometimes have to go through a lengthy and costly process. That 6-12 month earlier diagnosis has a significant impact on our son’s ability to be in the community in a mainstream setting and cope with life long term.”

“Cutting out that long waiting time is also the difference between him having the chance to go to mainstream school next year,” Kim says.

“I hope they start putting these clinics everywhere as it has a really significant impact for my family.”

The NASDAC launched in 2019, and runs one day a week at Craigieburn Centre with the involvement of a Paediatrician, Speech Pathologist, Occupational Therapist and Psychologist. The clinic’s aim is for children to receive assessment early to help them access supports earlier.

Amanda Lees, Speech Pathologist and NASDAC Clinic Coordinator said, “Assessment for ASD is important because it can assist parents and teacher’s understanding of a child’s abilities and difficulties; it can help inform decisions about therapy and can allow the family to access some options for extra assistance and support.”

“Our clinic is for children when it is unclear if they present with ASD or another diagnosis and need a team-based approach to answer this question.”