June 20, 2023

We Are Northern: This is the NASDAC team

The Northern Autism Spectrum Disorder Assessment Clinic (NASDAC) is a multidisciplinary clinic located at Craigieburn Centre. It provides assessment for children to determine whether they meet the diagnostic criteria of having an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

The clinic was established in 2019, and was initiated by a review of new referrals to speech pathology over the first three months of 2018. This review indicated that 50 per cent of the children presented with ASD concerns, warranting further diagnostic investigation. In 2018, Northern Health applied for a grant and was successful in the application.

The project aimed to improve the pathways to assessment for pre-school children in the outer-northern suburbs of Melbourne, with the objectives to:

  • Re-design the triage and referral pathways for children referred with suspected ASD to make sure the most suitable service pathway was identified and to reduce the waiting times.
  • Train allied health staff in evidence-based ASD assessment tools, allowing them to work to their full scope of practice.
  • Implement a MDT ASD assessment clinic with allied health and a paediatrician.
  • Collaborate with key Transcultural and Language Services (TALS) staff to ensure timely and cohesive assessment for clients from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) backgrounds.

Today, the team consists of six staff members, a developmental paediatrician, speech pathologist, occupational therapist, psychologist and two paediatric fellows, who rotate through Craigieburn every six months and receive training in clinic. In February 2020, NASDAC received a Northern Health Staff Recognition Award for “Innovation”, for implementing a better way to deliver care and service through a new idea or initiative.

“Since the opening of the clinic, our team has worked with a large number of families and the demand continues to grow. The team has worked together to streamline the assessment and triage processes, and we continually look for ways to improve this fledging specialist service. NASDAC illustrates how working together greatly improves what we do,” said Justine Slattery, Allied Health Education Lead.

Leanne Reynolds, NASDAC Occupational Therapist, says she is thrilled to be a part of such amazing team.

“I love working with such a skilled, client-centred and supportive multidisciplinary team. I learn something every day from working with them,” she said.

The team treat children who live in the northern catchment area and are referred to the service by the age of six years. These patients usually have more complex needs and require a more extensive and coordinated team assessment.

During the pandemic, the team found it challenging to assess the communication skills of the children with autism via Telehealth, with many of the assessments having to be postponed until face-to-face appointments were reintroduced.

“Our team complete the ADOS – Autism Diagnostic Observational Schedule, a play-based assessment to observe social communication and imagination in a play environment. However, this couldn’t be completed over Telehealth during the pandemic. During this time, we managed to still conduct family interviews and set up structured observations of different activities over Telehealth, but not without challenges,” said Amanda Lees, NASDAC Speech Pathologist.

In 2023, the team are excited to continue to work together as one team and further develop the service and ensure they are providing the best diagnostic services for their young patents.

Thank you to our staff at NASDAC for all your wonderful work.

Pictured (L-R): Leanne Reynolds, Occupational Therapist, Amanda Lees, Speech Pathologist and Clinic Coordinator and Dr Jolene Fraser, Paediatrician.