Abila Tazanu M.D. has a unique perspective on the daily challenges and long term triumphs of all parents with kids on the autism spectrum. It is an insider view that she is using to change the way children with developmental disabilities are screened. Her passion makes sense. Doctor Tazanu is not only one of Prince George’s County’s most sought after pediatricians and the co-founder and executive director of the One World Center for Autism, she is also the mother of two children with autism and one with ADHD.
Doctor Tazanu’s personal experience is familiar to many parents with kids on the spectrum. Something wasn’t quite right with her children’s development but every doctor she visited was positive that it was nothing to worry about. She did worry. Eventually she sidestepped the medical world and called Prince Georges County Infants and Toddlers Program and got the diagnosis through them. “I grieved,” she says, as she recalls those first dark days as she tried to sort through the overwhelming emotions. As a doctor herself the question became: how could they have missed this?
The reality is the current screening process administered by pediatricians is incomplete. In many cases pediatricians aren’t screening children at all for developmental disabilities. Doctor Tazanu is quick to point out that her passion is not about assigning blame. The reality is many pediatric medical programs do not teach developmental issues. And while the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends screenings, getting doctors to implement them is tough.
Doctor Tazanu wants this to change. “We should be screening at nine, eighteen and thirty-four months.” The need is justified when you consider the numbers. “About ten percent of kids who come into the office will have developmental issues. We are capturing less than half of that. As low as three percent.” Lagging identification not only robs the children and their families of powerful early intervention services and therapies but also sets the children up for more complex difficulties at school.
“Issues get bigger as children get bigger,” she points out. When kids are identified later, it is typically around social emotional issues and gets labeled as behavior problems. This can lead to low self-esteem and trouble making friends.
Knowing something is not right and not getting the answers you are searching for is a frustration every parent struggling with a diagnosis faces. It was out of this frustration that the One World Center for Autism was born. The organization, co-founded by Doctor Tazanu, provides a myriad of programs and resources for families struggling with the complexities of autism. Learning from her unique personal experience Tazanu realized that it is not only families that need information but doctors and set out to do something.
Working with Prince Georges County’s early childhood intervention program, One World formed – Prince Georges County Special Needs Identification Physician Support Program (PGCSNIPS). The mission of program is to support pediatric primary care providers in the identification and provision of comprehensive care for children and youth with special healthcare needs.
Tazanu is the first to admit it is not easy. While providers are receptive to getting the information they were not always as enthusiastic about doing the screenings. Administering screenings is time-consuming as is learning about developmental delays. It is not something you can take in during a single afternoon conference.
So how to turn the situation around and bring more doctors onboard to learn the facts, administer screenings and make the right referrals? Doctor Tazanu believes the key is collaboration. “We need to connect the healthcare and educational worlds naturally. When we have a structured communication between the two worlds it will do be very powerful for both the kids and their families.
In the meantime she will continue to fight as both a doctor and a parent to spread the message of making pediatric developmental screening the standard routine in all doctor’s offices.