Universal screening for autism spectrum disorder leads to more diagnoses at a younger age

A 2007 AAP recommendation for universal autism screening has led to increased earlier diagnoses of the condition.
A 2007 AAP recommendation for universal autism screening has led to increased earlier diagnoses of the condition.

Children born before the American Academy of Pediatrics' (AAP) universal Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) recommendations were issued were diagnosed with ASD significantly later than children born after the AAP recommendations were published, according to research that will be presented at the Pediatric Academic Societies Meeting 2016 in Baltimore.

“Children with ASD benefit from early diagnosis and intervention services,” wrote Maria Valicenti-McDermott, MD, MS, assistant professor of pediatrics and an attending physician at the Children's Evaluation and Rehabilitation Center at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine. “Children evaluated before the AAP recommended universal pediatric screening were more likely to be diagnosed at an older age, and with more severe autistic symptoms and more impaired adaptive functioning.”

The researchers reviewed data from the diagnoses of 512 children between 2003 and 2012; 295 (58%) were born before 2005. In those born before 2005, the average age of diagnosis was slightly younger than 4 years old, compared with 2 and a half years old in children born during or after 2005.

Dr Valicenti-McDermott and colleagues found that the decrease in age of diagnosis affected all ethnic groups, and noted that demographic factors such as race and ethnicity are often linked to later diagnoses and fewer concerns about possible symptoms of autism, leading to overall worse outcomes.

“It remains unclear … whether the significant drop in average age of diagnosis we found was entirely the result of pediatrician universal screening or the effect of the national campaign to increase awareness of ASD in general and the importance of early diagnosis in particular,” Dr Valicenti-McDermott concluded. “But given the undisputed benefit of early identification of autism, sorting out the contribution of universal screening to this pattern will be an important next step to address the concerns of the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force regarding the benefits of early screening.”

Reference

  1. Valicenti-McDermott M, Seijo R, Shulman L. Abstract 2833.289. Age of diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder in an ethnically diverse population before and after the 2007 AAP recommendation for universal screening. Presented at Pediatric Academic Societies Meeting 2016; April 30-May 3, 2016; Baltimore, MD. 
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