Christine Ehrich Revolutionizes the Autism Evaluation Process in Arizona 

by Valliere Jones 

For years, many Arizona families have struggled to get professional autism evaluations. A lack of psychologists and an overburdened system have created waitlists of a year or longer — far too long for parents and children who need answers and life-changing intervention therapies. 

With decades of experience in the healthcare space and a proven track record of building provider networks, Christine Ehrich felt compelled to intervene after hearing about the struggles parents endure. She spoke with numerous psychologists who shared their patients’ healthcare access barriers, and it reminded her of her own experiences as young mother. 

“Their seemingly endless struggles to get an evaluation struck a chord with me. I remembered how powerless, helpless and vulnerable I felt when my son had a bone infection and was in and out of the hospital. Getting him the help he needed was torture — the red tape and bureaucracy was maddening, and I realized I was his only advocate,” says Ehrich. “I need a lot of purpose in whatever I do, and I knew my personal and professional backgrounds could help families get the services they deserve in a much shorter time.”

In 2020, Ehrich set out to disrupt the current system by founding Axis for Autism, a company that gives Arizona families answers, support and guidance as they begin their autism journey.

Not Her First Rodeo

Ehrich’s leadership path started at Industrial Solutions Network, a company that revolutionized how injured Arizona workers received the physical therapy they needed. In 20 years at the helm, she amassed a network of physical and occupational therapists at 600 clinics in three states.

“By contracting with therapists with a wide range of specialties, we were able to match patients with those who could deliver the best outcomes and results,” she says.

After selling to One Call Care Management in 2015, Ehrich was soon back to network building. 

Recruiting Providers to Join Her Network

Ehrich’s experience building networks opened doors with psychologists, and by demonstrating how Axis for Autism permits them to practice at the top of their license, she ultimately persuaded many to participate. 

“Many focused on cash-pay business because that’s easier for them — they get paid upfront and don’t do all the legwork of coordinating with insurance plans,” she says. “We work closely with the Medicaid and private insurance plans, taking a lot of the contracting, credentialing and administrative workload off providers’ backs. By making it really easy for them to participate, we’ve leveled the playing field so everyone has access to an evaluation if they need one.”

Psychologists also reported spending hours writing diagnostic reports, so Ehrich addressed that challenge by leveraging technology and processes radiologists have used for years. Psychologists access intake forms, parent and teacher questionnaires, the 90-minute video evaluation and other information through the cloud and take advantage of the system’s drop-down options and buttons to complete detailed reports much faster. Fewer paperwork hassles were a big draw, but Ehrich’s vision for helping them concentrate on their specialties was also enticing.

“Some of our psychologists are full time, but others want to work 10 hours a month. Meeting them where they are helped us build a deep bench with the best in Arizona,” she says. “All of them specialize in autism but have different niches and specialties. We have psychologists that really like the littles, so we send two- and three-year-olds to them, while others focus on adults or adolescent girls. We’re able to match our patients with the right psychologist for their evaluation.”

Improving Accessibility for Patients

With many of Arizona’s top autism psychologists on board, Ehrich set out to streamline the process for patients. 

“Instead of coming in for three visits, patients come in only once to get tested. The psychologist shares the diagnostic report via a telehealth appointment where patients or their parents are able to ask questions and get the resources they need,” she says. “We also have psychologists and clinicians who speak Spanish, Arabic and a number of other languages, which helps patients feel more comfortable culturally, and they get more out of the evaluation.”

Although Axis for Autism has slashed the evaluation process to less than 60 days and can evaluate 200 patients a month, Ehrich is nowhere near done. Her next plan is for mobile clinics that make it easier for people who don’t live near Axis for Autism’s three locations in Phoenix, Glendale and Tucson to be evaluated.

“It’s not an easy fix,” Ehrich says, “but collaborating with others to solve problems that impact people’s lives every day is incredibly rewarding.”

Did You Know: One in 40 Arizona children has autism, which is higher than the national average of one in 44. The average age of diagnosis for Arizona children is 4 years and 10 months, but the earlier they receive intervention, the better chance they have at reducing or reversing autism’s challenging effects and gaining more independence.

At a Glance

Company: Axis for Autism

CEO: Christine Ehrich

Headquarters: Phoenix

Who They Are: Leveraging groundbreaking technology and a network of specialized psychologists, Axis for Autism has developed a model for streamlining autism diagnosis that’s slashing exorbitant wait times for Arizona families, ensuring them faster access to life-changing intervention and therapies faster.

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