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Hospital Joins Autism Pilot Project. By Shelly Hanson.
4/1/2009 © The Intelligencer
Wheeling Hospital is participating in an Ohio-based pilot project meant to help doctors accurately diagnose children with autism spectrum disorders.

The announcement was made during a news conference Monday at the facility. Dr. Judy Romano, local pilot leader and director of the hospital's Center for Pediatrics, said she and her therapists began receiving training about a year ago via the Autism Diagnosis Education Pilot Project, developed by the Ohio Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

While there is varying degrees of autism, Romano said one in 150 children across the United States are affected by an autism spectrum disorder, often described as when a child has difficulty developing normal social behavior. Romano noted Wheeling Hospital was approached by pilot project officials to participate, as it was looking for the rural Ohio region of Belmont County to be included. And since Wheeling Hospital operates a Center for Pediatrics office in Martins Ferry, the facility qualified.

The Ohio-funded pilot project is being led by a 25-member panel including the project's medical director, Dr. John Duby, who heads the Akron Children's Hospital's Autism Center, and Dr. Carol Lannon, co-director of the Center for Health Care Quality at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center.

In addition to Romano, Wheeling Hospital employees who also are receiving training include physical therapist Nikki Kiger, speech-language therapist Sheila Archer and occupational therapist Allison Cipoletti.

Romano noted the pilot project's expert panel has developed a "gold standard" to diagnose children based on scientific evidence. "There is a right way to do it and a wrong way - and this is the right way," Romano said of diagnosing children.

Romano noted based on studies all children should be screened for autism at 18 months old and again at 24 months old. She noted, though, that she has screened children as young as 4 months old. Screening determines whether actual testing, which lasts about four hours, is necessary. "We strongly stress the importance of standardized screenings," Romano said in a news release. "The sooner autism is diagnosed using a standard process, the faster intervention can occur."

Part of the process is ruling out other causes of a child's behavior. "Most end up not having autism but have other disorders we can also deal with," she said.