While the pandemic has delayed the physical opening of the new Autism Diagnostic Center at New Mexico State University, the center is now offering telehealth services to children under 36 months old in need of a diagnostic evaluation for Autism Spectrum Disorder.
In order to receive treatment, a child must have a medical diagnosis of ASD from a qualified evaluation provider. Since the center opened last year, staff has seen a high demand from parents and children not just in southern New Mexico, but from around the state.
While there are several autism evaluation providers, the only other diagnostic center in the state is located at the University of New Mexico, and there is up to a two-year wait for a diagnostic assessment. Such a lengthy wait could result in delayed access to necessary intervention services, an increased lifetime cost of care and less favorable outcomes.
Evaluations are currently being performed by Dr. Cosette Montañez who leads the interdisciplinary team at the ADC. She is a licensed psychologist and NMSU associate professor in the Department of Communication Disorders. She is also an Applied Behavior Analysis Stage 1 Autism Evaluation Practitioner and a Board Certified Behavior Analyst.
“We’ve had referrals from 13 counties, including from as far away as Farmington,” Montañez said. “There is such a long wait everywhere, and the pool of diagnostic evaluation providers in the state is very limited.”
Montañez has more than 15 years of experience conducting evaluations for autism and other neurodevelopmental disorders in school-based and clinical settings with children 18 months to 17 years old. Besides her academic training credentials and experience, she is bilingual in English and Spanish and is able to work and support individuals in both languages.
Montañez said the current telehealth process has made it easier for parents to submit paperwork and conduct interviews online. The ADC will more than likely adopt some of those procedures when the center starts accepting in-person appointments.
A safety plan has been submitted to NMSU for a return to campus, but a timeline has not been determined as of yet, Montañez said. There are also plans to hire additional staff, including a clinical psychologist, a social worker and an administrative assistant.
The Department of Communication Disorders spearheaded the project by working closely with former state Sen. Mary Kay Papen and NMSU senior director of government affairs Ricardo Rel to secure funding.
For more information, call the Autism Diagnostic Center at 575-646-3177.
Author: Adriana M. Chavez – NMSU