YOUR HEALTH: Easy screening for Asperger’s

PHOENIX, Arizona – Some very simple questions can help identify kids who may have Asperger's syndrome.

And those questions could save a life.

"I believe that if we could have put in place the proper supports for Dave, we would never have gone down the path of depression," said Patty Dion.

But Patty Dion's son Dave wasn't diagnosed with Asperger's until he was 34, after decades of therapies and drugs for other disorders.

He killed himself shortly after.

"You can just imagine how devastating that was for our family," said Patty.   "But the needless suffering and challenges that our son went through because we didn't have a correct diagnosis."

Enter Chris Smith of the Southwest Autism Research and Resource Center or SARCC.

He interviewed 30 people with Asperger's about their symptoms, crunched the data, and came up with a quick way to screen kids.

"One of the benefits of the Dave screen questionnaire or the social challenges screening questionnaire is that it's quick and easy to complete," said Christopher Smith, SAARC research director.   "It's 15 yes or no questions."

Teachers or parents answer the questions. Kids who get six or more yeses are directed to see a specialist.

"This project is really about offering opportunity to detect those individuals before they have more serious functional impairments," explained Smith.

The app is called "Think Asperger's" and it's on iTunes and Google Play.

Tom Doebler brought the screener to Great Hearts Academy, one of Arizona's public charter schools.   He expects a big impact.

"It's just another step in breaking down misunderstanding about Autism Spectrum Disorder in schools and outside the schools, and that's something I just jumped on." said Doebler, who is National Director of Exceptional Student Services at Great Hearts.

In that first year, four students in Great Hearts Academy were directed to get more intensive testing; that's about the number experts expected to find.

Chris Smith's hope is for universal screening for social challenges in elementary school, just like hearing and vision screening.

DIAGNOSIS: If a parent notices signs then he or she may need to see a specialist in cognitive behavior and mental health.  Even though symptoms occur in childhood, many adults are actually diagnosed with Asperger`s.  Many children are put on waiting lists for diagnosis of autism; however, having a formal diagnosis can help not only with understanding the behaviors that go along with this condition, but also with accommodations that may give support.   (Source: http://www.aane.org/resources/adults/aspergerautism-spectrum-diagnosis-adults/ )

If this story has impacted your life or prompted you or someone you know to seek or change treatments, please let us know by contacting Jim Mertens at jim.mertens@wqad.com or Marjorie Bekaert Thomas at mthomas@ivanhoe.com.