A new Health PEI program will provide early intervention for children who are awaiting an autism assessment from a psychologist.
TDS News – The Social ABCs(link is external) program is a structured, evidence-based early intervention program for children identified as possibly having autism spectrum disorder (ASD), providing families with intervention support at the first signs of concern, even before diagnosis. Parents will play a major role in the program.
Social ABCs is for children between the ages of 12 and 36 months. The program has been successful in other parts of Canada, where parents have seen a significant increase in positive affect-sharing and social communication in toddlers.
“Families, service providers, and community stakeholders have long advocated for this type of early intervention program on Prince Edward Island. We are happy to provide this support to Island families as we work together to ensure the best outcomes for children with ASD. We are one of the first provinces to offer this service pre-diagnosis, because we want to make sure there is no lag between when a child is identified, and when their family receives this help.” – Health and Wellness Minister Ernie Hudson
The program was co-developed by Drs. Jessica Brian, clinician-investigator and co-lead of Toronto-based Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital’s Autism Research Centre, and Susan Bryson, Professor Emerita in the Department of Pediatrics and Neuroscience at Dalhousie University.
PEI has Canada’s second highest prevalence of autism, affecting one in 59 residents according to Public Health Agency of Canada data. Nationally and globally, rates of autism are increasing. Access to assessments with trained professionals has not increased at the same pace, meaning longer wait times.
Health PEI is in the process of hiring an additional psychologist to address these wait times, and in the meantime, the Social ABCs ensure young children get the support they need during a critical time in their development.
“Waiting for a diagnosis can be very stressful for families because early intervention has such a positive impact on learning, social skills and daily function for children on the spectrum,” said Minister of Education and Lifelong Learning Natalie Jameson. “We will continue to work across government, with service providers, community and families to improve autism services and supports.”
Health PEI expects to launch the program this summer. Recruitment is underway to hire a Social ABCs project lead and coach to begin working this spring. After they receive certified training, they will work with families to empower and educate them in providing interventions to their children.