NMSU autism diagnostic center open for telehealth appointments

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As the pandemic delayed the physical opening of New Mexico State University’s new autism diagnostic center, the center now offers telehealth services to children under 36 months in need of diagnostic evaluation of autism spectrum disorders.

In order to receive treatment, a child must have a medical diagnosis of ASD from a qualified assessment provider. Since the center opened last year, staff have seen strong demand from parents and children, not just from southern New Mexico, but across the state.

While there are several providers of autism assessment, the state’s only other diagnostic center is located at the University of New Mexico, and there is a wait of up to two years for a diagnostic evaluation. Such a long wait could lead to delayed access to necessary interventional services, an increase in the cost of lifelong care and less favorable outcomes.

The evaluations are currently being carried out by Dr Cosette Montañez who leads the interdisciplinary team at ADC. She is a registered psychologist and NMSU Associate Professor in the Department of Communication Disorders. She is also a Stage 1 Applied Behavior Analysis Stage 1 Autism Assessment Practitioner and Board Certified Behavior Analyst.

“We have received referrals from 13 counties, including as far away as Farmington,” Montañez said. “There is such a long wait everywhere, and the pool of diagnostic assessment providers in the state is very limited.”

Montañez has over 15 years of experience performing school and clinical assessments for autism and other neurodevelopmental disorders with children aged 18 months to 17 years. In addition to her degrees and academic training experience, she is bilingual in English and Spanish and is able to work and support people in both languages.

Montañez said the current telehealth process has made it easier for parents to submit documents and conduct interviews online. The CDA will more than likely adopt some of these procedures when the center begins to accept in-person appointments.

A safety plan has been submitted to the NMSU for a return to campus, but no timeline has yet been determined, Montañez said. There are also plans to hire additional staff, including a clinical psychologist, a social worker and an administrative assistant.

The Communication Disorders Department led the project, working closely with former State Senator Mary Kay Papen and NMSU Senior Director of Government Affairs Ricardo Rel to secure funding.

For more information, call the Autism Diagnostic Center at 575-646-3177.

Author: Adriana M. Chavez – NMSU

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