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The routine screening practices of nurse practitioners for autism in children

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Vande Hey, Sarah A.
Moss, Vicki
Jun 08, 2009
Autism Diagnosis; Delivery of Health Care; Nurse practitioners; Medical screening.; Autism in children.
Autism, a severe disorder of development, is becoming increasingly common among children. The prevalence of autism is estimated to be 1 in 150 children (Johnson & Myers, 2007) and the incidence is on the rise. Autism can cause disabilities in all areas of psychological development, from cognitive, language, and behavioral deficits to impairments in social interaction (Crane & Winsler, 2008). Early detection of autism increases the chance of early intervention, which has proven to lead to better outcomes. However, previous studies have shown that less than 30% of providers are screening children for autism (Blackwell & Niederhauser, 2003). Nurse practitioners in a primary care or pediatric setting are in a significant position to improve outcomes for children through routine screening for autism. The purpose of this study was to explore the routine screening practices of nurse practitioners for autism in children. The following three research questions were explored: 1) Are nurse practitioners routinely screening for autism in children? 2) At what age do nurse practitioners begin screening for autism in children? 3) What are the barriers to routine screening for autism in children? Orlando?s Nursing Process Theory was used as the theoretical framework for this study. A quantitative study approach was used to explore the routine screening practices of nurse practitioners for autism in children. The convenience sample included 102 nurse practitioners working with pediatric patients in a primary care or pediatric setting in Northeastern Wisconsin. Data was collected through the use of a 16-item questionnaire with closed-ended questions. A list of local nurse practitioners, along with their home addresses, was obtained from the Wisconsin Department of Regulation and Licensing. Questionnaires were mailed to the nurse practitioners? homes and responses were kept anonymous. Descriptive statistics were used to analyze the data. Findings indicated that only 23% of the nurse practitioners routinely screen pediatric patients for autism. The age at which this sample began screening children for autism was not consistent with current recommended guidelines. The main barriers to routine screening for this sample were 1) unfamiliarity with the screening tools, 2) absence of formal training to screen for autism, and 3) limited time. These barriers are consistent with findings of studies reviewed in the literature. The majority of the participants in this sample would benefit from learning more about autism. Overall, it appears that the recommended guidelines for autism screening are not being followed.
A Clinical Paper Submitted in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the degree of Master of Science - Nursing - Family Nurse Practitioner -- University of Wisconsin - Oshkosh.
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