From autism to the revolution in services to children, APA's Practice Directorate is involved in a range of efforts to improve children's health and psychology's role in the process, several of which were highlighted at APA's 2000 Annual Convention, Aug. 4­8:

  • NIMH Policy Group on Children's Mental Health: The lack of funding for doctoral and postdoctoral trainees is perhaps the most significant barrier to training mental health scientists in child and adolescent psychology, APA recently told the Pediatric Research Work Group of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH).

The work group asked the association to comment on a variety of issues related to children's mental health, both in a query letter to APA earlier this year and in a special session with psychologists at APA's 2000 Annual Convention. The discussion stems from the development of a major report due next year that is intended to guide NIMH research for children.

On the issue of support for training, APA noted that psychologists require six to seven years to complete doctoral degrees and acquire a greater debt load than other science-based disciplines upon graduation. The association said there also is a lack of support for mental health agencies that train for integration of research and clinical practice psychology.

NIMH is also asking psychologists for comments on questions such as what kinds of research would be useful to practitioners and what causes any divisions between research and clinical practice in child and adolescent health.

Information on the report development is available from: NIMH Associate Director Kimberly Hoagwood, PhD: (301) 443-3364, khoagwoo@nih.gov.

APA members who served on the NIMH work group are Barbara J. Burns, PhD, Ellen Frank, PhD, Nadine Kaslow, PhD, and John Weisz, PhD.

  • Autism screening and diagnosis: During the APA convention, APA's Council of Representatives endorsed recommendations for all children to be routinely screened, as early as infancy, for any developmental problems, and specifically, for autism.

About one in four children in any primary-care practice shows developmental issues, but "fewer than 30 percent of primary-care providers do standardized screening tests at well-child appointments," according to the "practice parameter" endorsed by APA's Council of Representatives. It was developed by a panel of experts from 12 professional organizations that was chaired by the American Academy of Neurology (AAN) and included APA representatives.

Screening is more important than ever, says the document, because research shows that early diagnosis of autism can improve a child's life through earlier education planning, family support and education, management of family stress and appropriate medical care and treatment.

The guidelines appeared in the Aug. 22 issue of Neurology and further information is on the AAN Web page: www.aan.com.

APA members on the autism screening and diagnosis panel are Sally J. Rogers, PhD, Wendy L. Stone, PhD, Sally Ozonoff, PhD, and James A. Mulick, PhD.

  • Coalition of divisions: Several APA divisions related to child health recently formed the Coalition of Child Practice Divisions to focus on work with children.

The body grew out of recommendations from the 1998 APA Report of the Task Force on Child and Adolescent Professional Psychology, chaired by Deborah Tharinger, PhD. The report pointed out the paradigm shift happening in all types of children's services, in which coordinated, child-centered services are delivered in the social and cultural setting where the child and family are.

The document stressed that traditionally trained psychology practitioners have much to offer this system, but, on the other hand, the shift poses the risk of marginalizing psychology's role, since other types of providers are already much more involved.

The coalition's goals include developing competencies for professional psychologists to work with children in schools, hospitals, clinics and other service systems; promoting the presence and leadership of psychologists in those settings; and educating psychologists to respond to the challenge.

The coalition includes Divs. 16 (School), 37 (Children, Youth and Families), 43 (Family), 53 (Clinical Child) and 54 (Society of Pediatric Psychology).

Further Reading

Information on the coalition is available from Ron Palomares, PhD, APA assistant executive director for policy and advocacy in schools, (202) 336-5908, e-mail.