COVID-19 Creating Potential Diagnostic Delays for Children with Autism

More than 982,000 children suspected to have autism could see delays in their diagnoses due to the COVID-19 emergency, according to Autism Parenting Magazine

Research highlighted by the publication shows that, since April, there has been a 350% increase in Google searches for the term “early signs of autism in toddlers.” Meanwhile, searches for “signs of autism in kids” have also spiked, up 120% during the same period. 

The numbers suggest the availability of diagnostic services have decreased amid the pandemic, which has hit providers in the autism services space especially hard.


Amid the outbreak, providers have been forced to rejigger their business models, moving consultations and sessions online and reducing their in-person patient capacity. Those changes have only exacerbated a problem that pre-dates the pandemic: the nationwide shortage of autism services providers.

The dearth of providers exists both within autism treatment and diagnosis. However, autism diagnostic services have always been in especially short supply, according to Chris Donovan, a transactional health care lawyer and partner at the national law firm Foley & Lardner LLP.

“Right now the bottleneck in a lot of autism services is the diagnosis,” Donovan told Behavioral Health Business back in January, identifying diagnostics as an area of especially high need and growing opportunity within autism services.


As a result, Donovan said a growing number of providers were moving to add diagnostics arms to supplement their treatment businesses. In return for providing a more comprehensive suite of services, those providers were increasingly rewarded with attention and financing from private equity firms and their platform companies, Donovan said.

“It’s interesting to see some of the … platforms now establishing a clinician arm tasked with actually doing the diagnosis, in addition to providing therapy,” he said at the time.

Now, nearly a year later and about eight months into the pandemic, it’s likely that trend and the ever-growing need for autism diagnostic services will only continue to grow.

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