Families are encouraged to take advantage of a free autism screening this week.
The Golisano Children's Hospital of Southwest Florida, in partnership with the Ronald McDonald House Charities of Southwest Florida, will host the screening on Friday from 9:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Wellness Center of Cape Coral. The screening is directed at children 18 months old to 5 years old.
"The idea is to identify children with autism at the youngest possible age," Sherri Campbell, a nurse practitioner with Lee Health, said. "We don't require any doctor orders or referrals or anything."
Children can be diagnosed with autism as young as 18 to 24 months.
"The average age of diagnosis is like 4 years old," she said.
It is estimated that one in every 68 children is diagnosed with some form of autism spectrum disorder, making it more common than childhood cancer, juvenile diabetes and pediatric AIDS combined.
If you go
What: Free autism screening
Who: Lee Health
When: Friday, 9:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Where: Wellness Center of Cape Coral,
609 S.E. 13th Court
Details: To schedule a screening call 239-343-6838
Campbell noted that it is best for children to receive therapy as early as possible.
"They have the better outcomes," she said.
Campbell added that screenings are recommended at 18 and 24 months.
"We want all the children to come," she said. "We want all the children to get checked."
The screenings are administered by advanced registered nurse practitioners, who have training and experience in child development and developmental disorders. A standardized screening tool is used.
"It's basically a parent questionnaire," Campbell said.
She added that it helps to identify if a child has features associated with autism.
Families are provided a document that states if the child passed.
"And what recommendations we would have them discuss with their pediatrician," Campbell said.
If a child fails, families are pointed to specialists who can further confirm the diagnosis.
"We talk to the family about services that are available locally," she added.
Unknown to many, the School District of Lee County has services available for families.
"There are free services available through the school system," Campbell said.
The screenings come in English, Spanish and Creole, but the staff has access to over 90 languages.
"We've given it in Russian before," she said.
Created in 2009, the program is grant-funded through Lee Health and the Ronald McDonald House Charities of Southwest Florida. The screenings are held each month somewhere in Lee County.
Campbell noted that 288 children have been screened since the program's inception.
Appointments for the screening are encouraged, but not required.
To schedule an appointment in advance, call 239-343-6838.
The next screening will take place on March 10 at Gulf Coast Town Center in Fort Myers.
The Wellness Center of Cape Coral is at 609 S.E. 13th Court.