CHOC pioneers medical home for children with autism

The nationwide prevalence of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in children is one in 54. Finding the most appropriate care for children with ASD, as well as support and education for their families, can be a challenge — a challenge the Thompson Autism Center at CHOC Children’s seeks to make easier.

Thompson Autism Center: Filling the service gap

The Thompson Autism Center is committed to addressing autism defined core symptoms related to social interaction, repetitive behavior and communication via a medical home approach to reduce unmet healthcare needs.

“While our focus is on early diagnosis of ASDs between the ages of 1 and 6, we are also offering many services for the large percentage of children who have co-occurring medical and mental health disorders associated with autism,” said Dr. J. Thomas Megerian, pediatric neurologist and medical director of the Thompson Autism Center.

Dr. J. Thomas Megerian, pediatric neurologist and medical director of the Thompson Autism Center, examines a patient using a stethoscope
Dr. J. Thomas Megerian, pediatric neurologist and medical director of the Thompson Autism Center (left)

“The center is a place for families to come for most of the specialty care needs for their child. Our goal is to have all of the professionals who care for the child communicate with each other in creating a coordinated treatment plan all in one setting, answering questions that families have about their child’s diagnosis and helping to troubleshoot when they are not receiving needed services. We also have specialists who can partner with our families and their school programs to optimize intervention and educational programming and identify appropriate community resources specific to the needs of the child and their family.”

Medical home three-pronged approach

The multidisciplinary Assessment Program offers a comprehensive assessment with a psychologist-led full day evaluation with physicians, speech-language pathologists and occupational therapists as well as a brief confirmatory assessment that’s physician-led, aimed at reducing wait times when a diagnosis is clear.

The Behavior Program addresses refractory behavioral disabilities in a highly structured, safely managed setting to address children and adolescents presenting with agitation, self-injury or aggression. Evidence-based toilet training interventions are also addressed to support each child’s progression. The Behavior Program also offers consultation services for community behavioral therapy providers when a child’s progress stalls despite ongoing therapy.

The Co-Occurring Conditions Program facilitates multidisciplinary consultations, individual or group therapy, and targeting social skill groups to improve interpersonal relationships.

“We also provide transition services and specialists who work on plans for a child’s transition into adulthood,” Dr. Megerian said. “Our mission includes partnering with local organizations, including legal agencies and schools, to provide patients with integration paths into the community.”

Clinical research center of excellence

The Thompson Autism Center is committed to partnering with public and private institutions and government facilities to investigate innovative diagnostics and novel therapies for ASD. Research is ongoing to develop, study and implement behavioral treatments and programs.

“We’re providing a home for groundbreaking research and clinical trials. We’d like to be able to bring clinical trials to the community so that they have safe options for trying novel therapies,” Dr. Megerian said.

Our care and commitment to children has been recognized

CHOC Children’s Hospital was named one of the nation’s best children’s hospitals by U.S. News & World Report in its 2020-21 Best Children’s Hospitals rankings, and ranked in the neurology and neurosurgery specialty.

Best Children's Hospitals, U.S. News & World Report, Neurology & Neurosurgery, 2020-21

Learn how CHOC’s neuroscience expertise, coordinated care, innovative programs and specialized treatments preserve childhood for children in Orange County, Calif., and beyond.