Primary-care providers across the nation are using standardized tools to screen for developmental, and behavioral/mental-health concerns, including autism. In Massachusetts, other provider settings are also implementing screening and intervention. Both Early Intervention (birth to 3 years) and Early Education and Care (for children up to 12 years old in preschool, Head Start, or day care) conduct social/emotional screens.

 

Implementation Steps

Experience implementing screening using the standardized tools has been documented and shared extensively across the country. The following are the general steps needed to get started:

  1. Meet as an entire office group to plan for implementation. This is not a project one person can handle alone.
  2. Identify at least two "screening champions" on staff. One should be a clinician and the other an administrator. They can serve as point persons when others have questions.
  3. Select the standardized tools you want to use.
  4. Identify a starting point. You might consider having one clinician start, or start with one particular age group. Or, you might decide to identify one day of the week when all clinicians screen. Expand as staff become accustomed to the process. Alternatively, you may decide it is best to start with all providers.
  5. Use an implementation guide (suggestions to follow) to identify who is involved in each step of the plan.
  6. Centralize the community resource information in your office setting so it is readily available to all staff. You might also consider centralizing the screening tools.
  7. Launch the screening.
  8. Monitor your progress.

 

Prepare Parents and Patients for Behavioral-Health Screening

It is a good idea to prepare parents and patients in advance. A simple way to do this is to put pamphlets in the waiting area and exam rooms to expose parents to the concept of behavioral-health screening. Pamphlets that address the issue of behavioral and mental health are available from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). Inform parents and patients that the screening is voluntary.