The following article is part of conference coverage from the 2019 American Academy of Physician Assistants Annual Meeting (AAPA 2019) in Denver, Colorado. Clinical Advisor’s staff will be reporting breaking news associated with research conducted by leading physician assistants. Check back for the latest news from AAPA 2019.


Physician assistants (PAs) may not receive sufficient training and education to be able to identify the red flags associated wtith autism spectrum disorder (ASD), and a survey administered by the American Academy of Physician Assistants (AAPA) found that these providers want a better understanding of the signs and symptoms associated with the condition, according the research presented at the 2019 annual meeting of the AAPA, held May 18 to 22, 2019 in Denver, Colorado.

The AAPA partnered with academic researchers to gain insight on PA training and the ability of these providers to diagnose ASD. Participants (n=1960) provided demographic information and answered questions related to their knowledge, perceptions, and diagnostic practices related to ASD. Questions focused on whether they discuss ASD with patient caregivers and the training they received to identify the red flags of ASD were included. Perceptions of current and desired knowledge, skills, and abilities related to ASD were measured on a scale of 0 to 5.

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The majority of respondents (70.0%) reported that they did not receive training on administration of the Modified Checklist for Autism in Toddlers, Revised, with Follow-Up (M-CHAT-R/F), nor did they receive training on how to care for patients with ASD (59.5%). PAs practicing in pediatrics reported the greatest deficiency in skills related to administering the M-CHAT-R/F, understanding the criteria for diagnosing ASD, and understanding the early signs of ASD. Although 40.4% of PAs in pediatric practice reported not discussing ASD with patient caregivers, 56% admitted to discussing ASD with those for whom there is a concern.

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“While the research suggests current skills in identification in ASD to be low, the desire to improve knowledge was higher, suggesting that with additional resources PAs can become proficient in the early stage identification of ASP and provide guidance to family on early intervention strategies,” the authors concluded.

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Rizzolo D, Smith NE, McCall TC. Towards earlier identification: clinicians’ perceptions of their ability to identify, diagnose, and refer patients with autism spectrum disorder. Presentation at: The American Academy of Physician Assistants (AAPA) Annual Meeting; May 18-22, 2019; Denver, CO. Poster 156.