Does my child have autism?

That’s a question that many parents may find themselves asking as they watch their child’s behaviour. Not all children develop at the same rate, or at the same time, and parents may wonder if they're worrying unnecessarily. It can be difficult to think your child may have autism and hard to know where to get help.

Plunket nurses are often the first point of contact for parents who have questions about their child’s health or well-being. In June 2019, sixty Plunket Nurses received specialised training from Australian psychologist Josephine Barbaro, to help parents detect autism earlier in their tamariki.

Early detection, early support

Early detection is key to helping get support services in place sooner for kids and usually leads to better outcomes later in life. The average age of an autism diagnosis is around seven in New Zealand.

Plunket nurse Linda Stocker, who has a background in paediatrics, says the thinking has changed significantly around autism diagnosis.

“In the past, the thinking was that autism could only be diagnosed later in kids. The idea that we can detect autism in a child under one year is quite exciting, because that means we can support whānau earlier.”

Many families who have a child with autism face many challenges including long waits and trouble finding the right support.

“The sooner a child is diagnosed, the sooner they can receive support services for them and their family. Anything we can do to support these families will help in the long-term,” says Stocker.

There’s an app for that

Part of the Plunket nurses’ training included a briefing of an app called ASDetect that helps parents detect autism in their tamariki. Nurses were taught how to use the app and how to go through the specific questions that help assess whether a child is high or low risk for autism.

Stocker says the ASDetect app can be an empowering tool for parents – especially for those who have already raised concerns about their child and may not have been heard.

“The app encourages parents to use it and share the results with a health care professional,” explains Stocker. “It provides some evidence to show that there may be an issue. Parents know their child best.”

Knowledge in action

Another Plunket nurse who attended the training, Linda Woodhouse, says it’s great to have another tool to use while working with whānau.

“ASDetect is a great tool to use alongside our other vision and hearing screening evaluations, which provide a good overview of where the child is at,” says Woodhouse.

Anne Hodren, a National Educator for Plunket agrees, and says that her biggest learning from the session is that earlier detection leads to better outcomes. Hodren praised the app and said it’s easy for parent to use on their own.

“Parents can go home after speaking with their Plunket nurse and use the app to assess their child. Anyone can use it."

ASDetect app


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A free app that empowers parents and caregivers to assess their child's social attention and communication behaviours.