Inspire: Kayla Wagner – SU grad launches telehealth solution for diagnosing autism

By Janelle Davis

Wait times for diagnostic evaluations for autism have grown at an alarming rate, according to the National Institutes of Health. The reason is because the number of children who need to be evaluated for autism is much higher than the number of clinicians available, a need that Kayla Wagner, CEO of As You Are, noticed got worse during the pandemic. “Approximately 10 to 15 percent of children will screen at risk for autism. We need a fair number of clinicians to meet this need,” said Kayla.

The Syracuse University graduate earned her bachelor’s degree in psychology and neuroscience and went on to her graduate studies in clinical psychology where she was an active clinician and researcher at the college. Kayla started working at Quadrant Biosciences in 2017. From her experience as a clinician, doing diagnostics and therapy for children and adults, and working at Quadrant Biosciences, Kayla knew that the challenges associated with the pandemic would increase the wait time for autism evaluation and affect the diagnostic paradigm for autism evaluations. She wanted to do something about this nationwide problem.

In general, the medical space was starting to shift into telehealth because due to the pandemic, clinics weren’t able to see patients in person. This caused the wait times to increase even more by the day. These circumstances forced autism experts to quickly adapt and develop tools that could be administered via telehealth and reliably diagnose children. There has since developed mounting literature supporting virtual evaluations for autism.

Kayla wanted to be involved. “I knew I had to create a solution to make sure that this diagnostic paradigm was available to children anywhere, at any time because I believe that children should not ever wait to receive a diagnosis that needs timely and effective intervention options,” she said. Kayla quickly pitched the idea of As You Are to Quadrant’s CEO Rich Uhlig, and the team immediately began building the business. She launched As You Are to the public in August 2022.

As You Are is a virtual clinic used for autism evaluations where trained physicians can get you a diagnosis in a matter of weeks. “Consistent with current standards, our evaluation process uses the same criteria as in-person evaluations, based on the DSM-5 Manual developed by the American Psychiatric Association, combined with questionnaires and play-based assessment tools designed for telehealth appointments. We follow evidence-based practices,” Kayla explained.

As You Are hires pediatricians and provides them with rigorous training to evaluate autism. Kayla explains that it is a specialized process that takes a matter of weeks with a lot of quality control and ongoing assessment to ensure their training to identify autism is highly accurate. Even after being well trained, pediatricians are supervised and offered ongoing support as they work with the patients.

The autism evaluation process consists of three separate 30-minute appointments with the same trained physician. “The first appointment is a clinical interview where parents are asked questions about their child’s behavior and developmental history,” Kayla explained.

During the second virtual appointment, the physician coaches the parents through play-based activities where they can assess the child’s behaviors and how they socially interact. Kayla explained that the child is comfortable during the second appointment because it feels like they are at home playing with mom and dad, where the physician can observe the child’s behavior while instructing the parents to complete structured activities. “Having the child in their natural home environment is one of the major benefits of using telehealth versus going to a doctor’s office,” Kayla added.

The third appointment consists of a discussion surrounding the results of the assessment. This appointment is when the physician provides a diagnosis and comprehensive recommendations for treatment options.

Once your child is diagnosed, you have access to As You Are Care Sidekicks. “What they do is wonderful because they help navigate whatever the family needs for support, recommendations, resources, answering questions, and are always there for the families,” Kayla said.

When asked about the importance of a child being diagnosed early for autism, Kayla said it is crucial to get a diagnosis. She was hearing from parents and their experiences before discovering As You Are. Some families were on seven different waitlists. Other families had to wait two years for their child to be evaluated. “As You Are has filled a need very much present for families,” Kayla said. “Waiting for a diagnosis unnecessarily delays a child’s access to resources that impact so many crucial milestones in those developmental years, also impacting the entire family unit. It is our job to help break down those barriers to protect our future generations.”

As You Are is currently operating in 10 states and is now available in New York. When launched in New York, telehealth services to diagnose autism became available to 40% of the United States child population. Kayla shares that As You Are plans to hit all 50 states. “Our goal is to make services available to every child in need,” she said.

Signing up for the virtual clinic is easy. Everything you need is at “Everything we do is standard of care. Families can think of it just like visiting a doctor’s office, except it is in the comfort of your home,” Kayla said.

Kayla shared that she grew up around her best friend’s little brother, Kyle, who has autism. “I cherish the unique friendship I have with Kyle. I often wish everyone could see the world through his eyes. He has such a joyful spirit.” She continued, “Just like Kyle, all people with autism have valuable contributions to make and dreams to achieve. I want to be sure that every child has the opportunity to flourish and thrive.”