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Find out how you can join virtual mentoring program to improve autism care :

July 25, 2019

Editor's note:The 2019 AAP National Conference & Exhibition will take place from Oct. 25-29 in New Orleans.

With patients waiting up to 18 months to see her, developmental behavioral pediatrician Kristin Sohl, M.D., FAAP, didn’t just wring her hands.

“I started trying to think about ways to reduce or mediate that gap in both services as well as diagnosis and basically just try to get these kids what they needed,” said Dr. Sohl, a member of the AAP Section on Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics, Section on Telehealth Care and Council on Children With Disabilities.

What she and her colleagues came up with is a program based on the Extension for Community Healthcare Outcomes (ECHO) virtual mentoring model. Called ECHO Autism, the program links primary care physicians to specialists via videoconferencing to share knowledge and tools to care for children with autism and other developmental disabilities.

Since then, Dr. Sohl and her team have expanded the program to teach primary care practitioners how to diagnose autism.

Dr. Sohl and general pediatrician Alexandra James, M.D., M.P.H., FAAP, will explain how both programs work during a session titled “Empowering Pediatricians to Increase Access to Care for Children With Suspected Autism" (S4224) from 4-5:30 p.m. Monday, Oct. 28 in room R07 of the convention center. 

“We’re really looking forward to this opportunity to talk to more primary care pediatricians … I think that they will find it exciting about how they can get engaged and learn how to answer these families’ questions,” said Dr. Sohl, associate professor of clinical child health and executive director of ECHO Autism at University of Missouri Health Care.

ECHO Autism now has teams in 20 states and eight countries. Each team includes a developmental behavioral pediatrician, clinical psychologist, dietitian, social worker, parent of a child with autism and sometimes a child and adolescent psychiatrist. Twice a month, the specialists and primary care providers participate in a 90-minute video conference. The experts discuss how to address issues such as sleep, nutrition and behavior, while primary care providers can seek advice on challenging cases.

Prior to her involvement with ECHO, Dr. James would refer patients to a diagnostic center and just wait.

“Parents would be discouraged because a lot of times children with autism have challenging behaviors that they want to address, and I didn’t really have any of those tools to help them with that,” said Dr. James, assistant professor of child health at University of Missouri and a member of the AAP Councils on Early Childhood and Community Pediatrics.

Through ECHO, she not only has been trained to manage challenging behaviors and other comorbidities, she also can diagnose autism.

“It has been amazing,” Dr. James said. “It really has changed how I view autism, how I practice, how I support these patients and their families.”

For more coverage of the 2019 AAP National Conference & Exhibition, visit


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