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Amy Wetherby Featured in AAMC's Innovation Series article

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Increasing such access is also the goal of ACE awardees at Florida State University, where Amy Wetherby, PhD, director of the Autism Institute within the university’s College of Medicine, is leading a network of researchers studying whether an online tool—the Autism Navigator—can effectively turn community health workers into autism interventionists.

One goal, Wetherby says, is to address significant disparities in both autism diagnosis and treatment rates. If community health and social workers can be trained to help medically underserved families identify autism symptoms when they first arise and then engage effectively with their children, the outcomes for these children could be life changing.

“[Early intervention] can mean a big difference in IQ and cognitive ability and whether a child can function well in general education,” she says. “We’re hoping to bridge that science-to-service gap.”

At the heart of the study is whether Autism Navigator, a collection of web-based tools and resources, can train community workers to coach parents in how to support their child’s learning and development and, ultimately, lessen their child’s autism symptoms. “Right now, the early intervention system depends on specialists,” Wetherby says. “We want to expand the workforce and increase access.”

Wetherby and colleagues plan to work with about 180 children between ages 18 and 24 months across Florida, Massachusetts, and California. If the Autism Navigator training works in all three states—with each having very different systems for autism services and support—it could likely work in just about any state, she says.

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