Implementation of M-CHAT Screening for Autism in Primary Care in Saudi Arabia

Glob Pediatr Health. 2019 May 31:6:2333794X19852021. doi: 10.1177/2333794X19852021. eCollection 2019.


Background. Integration of autism screening into primary care practice in Saudi Arabia is not well established. Objectives. To evaluate the feasibility and effectiveness of implementing the Arabic Modified Checklist for Autism in Toddlers (M-CHAT) in a primary care practice at John Hopkins Aramco Healthcare Center in Saudi Arabia. Method. The Arabic version of M-CHAT was distributed to caregivers of 1207 toddlers (16-32 months) from January to December 2014. Feasibility was assessed by measuring the proportion of visits with M-CHAT completed, and reports of workflow challenges and provider satisfaction. The effectiveness of screening was evaluated based on the number of referrals for autism evaluation and autism identification rates. Results. Total M-CHAT completion rate was 89% (1078 out of 1207 child-specific visits). Those identified as low risk (n = 951; 88%) were reassured and followed routinely. Those screening positive (n = 127; 12%) were referred for diagnostic assessment. Twelve (1% of toddlers screened) were diagnosed with autism at a mean age of 24 months. In addition, positive M-CHAT detected speech delay and social anxiety. Providers acknowledged their satisfaction with the M-CHAT implementation process; the main challenge was communicating to families the importance of screening. Referrals for diagnostic evaluations increased from 23 to 43 cases in the first year, and 35 in the second year. Conclusion. Implementation of the autism screening using the Arabic M-CHAT is feasible and effective in a primary care setting in Saudi Arabia. Sustaining the implementation of developmental screening in practice requires staff engagement and systematic monitoring of the impact of change.

Keywords: Autism; Autism screen; M-CHAT; Primary care; Saudi Arabia.