North Texas

Asperger's Screener Could Help Save a Life

Asperger's syndrome is often described as a mild form of autism. It is often not diagnosed until adulthood, which can cause a lifetime of difficulties. But thanks to an autism research center and a determined mom, there's a quick and easy way to get some answers.

"I believe that if we could have put in place the proper supports for Dave, we would never have gone down the path of depression," Patty Dion said.

Dion's son, Dave, wasn't diagnosed with Asperger's until he was 34, after decades of therapies and drugs for other disorders. He killed himself shortly after.

"You can just imagine how devastating that was for our family. But the needless suffering and challenges that our son went through because we didn't have a correct diagnosis..." Dion said.

Enter Chris Smith, director of the Southwest Autism Research and Resource Center, or SARCC. He interviewed 30 people with Asperger's about their symptoms, crunched the data and came up with a quick way to screen kids.

"One of the benefits of the Dave screener, the social challenges screening questionnaire, is that it's quick and easy. It's complete. It's 15 yes or no questions," Smith said.

Teachers or parents answer the questions. Kids who get six or more "yesses" are directed to see a specialist.

"This project is really about offering opportunity to detect those individuals before they have more serious functional impairment," Smith said.

Tom Doebler brought the screener to one of Arizona's public charter schools. He expects a big impact.

"It's just another step in breaking down misunderstanding about autism spectrum disorder in schools and outside the schools, and that's something I just jumped on," Doebler said.

In that first year, four students in Great Hearts Academy were directed to get more intensive testing. That's about the number experts expected to find.

Smith's hope is for universal screening for social challenges in elementary school, just like hearing and vision screening. You can also download the screener for free. The app is called "Think Asperger's" on iTunes or Google Play.

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