03 Nov 2010

NZ Autism Spectrum Disorder Guideline Website

Front cover of the NZ ASD Guidelines

The New Zealand Autism Spectrulm Disorder (ASD) Guidelines were published by the Ministry of Health in April 2008.  These guidelines provide evidence-based recommendations for the assessment of ASD, for access to interventions and services for children and adults with ASD, and to assist decision-making regarding the development of policies to improve the health, educational and social outcomes for individuals with ASD.  This guideline is free to download from the Ministry of Health.  One of the nice things about these guidelines is the strong voice from people with ASD and their families that is present throughout the guideline documents.  This voice continues in the form of video-based resources on the NZASD Guideline website.

The website itself focuses primarily on one aspect of the guideline: the recognition and referral of ASD.  On first entering the website, a video introduction is automatically started, which provides clear, easily accessible information about what the purpose of the website is, who it is for, and some information on how to navigate around the website. The content of the website itself focuses mainly on what ASD is, how it is diagnosed and what a diagnosis of ASD means for people with the condition. This content is delivered through electronic booklets for downloading, personable video tutorials, PowerPoint slides, and a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) section (although the FAQ section also covers broader questions regarding the implementation of the whole NZASD Guideline as well). In addition, the website provides links to other education and advocacy groups in the community, such as Altogether Autism and Autism New Zealand Inc.

The website is described as being divided into two sections: resources for 'referrers' (health or education practitioners who might make an initial assessment for ASD before referring on to a specialist agency) and resources for 'recognisers' (members of the general public who might suspect a child or adult has ASD and is wondering how best to support them).  However, it is initially difficult to tell what the differences are between these two sections.  As it turns out, there are two differences: the first is that the video tutorial has a different spokesperson for each section of the website.  The second different is that the 'referrers' section contains a link to one additional resource - a one-hour self-directed continuing medical education test, intended for health professional as part of their post-graduate clinical training.  In fact, I would suggest that this self-direct test would be relevant to anyone interested in improving their knowledge of ASD, and that people who are not health professional might also find it informative to complete.

One of the challenges of guideline development is implemention of the guideline recommendations.  It is possible for robust, scientifically-based recommendations to be undermined by a lack of financial resources for dissemination or action.  It is nice therefore to see some re-packaging of a formal document such as the NZASD Guidelines in a format that is likely to be more accessible to professionals in practice and to the general public.  More of this, please!

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