Though waiting lists for autism-related services top the thousands across the Las Vegas Valley, two new practitioners aim to put a dent in those numbers.
Clinical neuropsychologists Erin Honke and Caitlin Cook will provide diagnostic services for families needing initial and follow-up evaluations for their autistic children at, respectively, Touro University Nevada’s Center for Autism and Developmental Disabilities and UNLV’s Ackerman Autism Center.
Both say they look forward to being a part of the solution to long wait times for families desperate for early intervention.
“I didn’t realize that there’s such a lack of neuropsychologists out here,” said Honke, who moved here with her children and husband, a Las Vegas native eager to get back to his roots. “I wasn’t seeing any openings really, so I was looking at private practice.”
Then her husband came across a job posting at Touro’s autism center for a neuropsychologist, and from there, she knew she’d found the right fit.
“I said I think this would be a perfect opportunity. I’m going to apply. I’m going to get the job,” Honke remembers. That was back in March.
Honke officially started in July, though she’s still waiting for approval from insurance companies to take insurance.
Touro had been searching for three years for a replacement for Nicole Cavenagh, the child neuropsychologist who left the university’s center for private practice in 2015, director of operations Lisa Kunz said.
“Unfortunately, they’re not here in our city, so we were recruiting across the country,” Kunz said. The center interviewed three candidates before Honke came along.
Kunz has nothing but high praise for Honke, who she said stands out for her commitment to children and a family-friendly personality.
“She was eager, enthusiastic, warm,” Kunz said of her first meeting with Honke. “You could tell she was going to fit in well.”
On the other side of town, Cook is returning to work under Julie Beasley, the Ackerman Autism Center’s director who served as Cook’s postdoctoral supervisor. Cook graduated from UNLV’s clinical psychology Ph.D. program in 2012 and moved to Kansas and later Oahu, Hawaii, with her three children and husband, who was stationed at Air Force bases in those states.
She was well aware of the dearth of services in Nevada when she called Beasley about a year ago and told her she planned to return to Las Vegas, which, after eight years of graduate school here, Cook said feels like home.
“It’s amazing to see how many families are being served here. I know from personal and professional experience just how incredibly hard it was to get in and get any services or even know where to go or what services were needed, especially for families on the front end of diagnosis,” Cook said.
“It’s also crazy to see how many families have gone without and are waiting to be seen, and that’s certainly something I’m excited to be a part of.”
Like Honke, Cook is waiting for insurance company approval, though she’s gotten the OK from Medicaid, which allows her to see publicly insured children.
To have two experts new to the Las Vegas area is “only a positive” for children waiting for diagnosis valleywide, said Terri Janison, CEO of the Grant a Gift Autism Foundation. There are 3,200 children waiting for help from the UNLV Ackerman Autism Center alone.
“Anytime we can get someone in here who can help provide those services, it just benefits the whole community,” Janison said. “There just needs to be that opportunity for as many patients to be seen as possible.”