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Virginia Kids Missing Critical Medical Checkups

Pediatrician Visit
Eric Risberg
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AP File Photo
Pediatrician Nelson Branco examines a six-year-old during a medical checkup.

About 15 years ago, experts began recommending an extra check-up for young children according to UVA Nursing Professor Pamela DeGuzman.

“The American Academy of Pediatrics added it in because this was a time that they wanted to have an extra screening for developmental disorders between the 24 month and the 3-year visit.”

If they diagnosed autism at that point, valuable treatments could begin.

Pam DeGuzman
UVA
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UVA Nursing Professor Pam DeGuzman found parents skipping key medical checkups for kids.

“The earlier you intervene with autism the better the treatment outcomes are," DeGuzman explains. "That early intervention happens at a time where the brain has more plasticity to it, and so you can really impact a kid’s trajectory the earlier you get in.”

But after reviewing more than a million records, DeGuzman discovered many parents in Virginia – especially those in rural areas or families on Medicaid -- weren’t bothering with that visit, and during the COVID pandemic, many have skipped routine exams for even younger children.

“And so it stands to reason that down the line we’re going to see that kids during this period are diagnosed with autism much later,” she says.

DeGuzman adds that this situation may be linked to financial concerns, to a lack of medical services near home and to the lack of follow-up by medical centers already stretched thin by high demand for services and a shortage of medical personnel.

Sandy Hausman joined our news team in 2008 after honing her radio skills in Chicago. Since then, she's won several national awards for her reporting from the Society of Professional Journalists, the Society of Environmental Journalists, the Radio, Television and Digital News Association and the Public Radio News Directors' Association.