UNIVERSAL SCREENING FOR AUTISM

10 Apr

TO SCREEN OR NOT TO SCREEN FOR AUTISM ?

3 Reasons why universal screening of children aged 1-3 years should be conducted.

By Lirio Sobrevinas-Covey, Ph.D.

The US Preventive Task Force recently published a statement that did not advocate universal screening of children up to the age of 3. The reason given was the lack of scientific evidence that early screening yielded benefits in terms of improving clinical outcomes for children eventually diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder.

That statement was met with considerable disagreement from clinicians and autism advocates including the American Academy of Pediatricians. With reference to an editorial by Dr. Geraldine Dawson, Ph.D. from Duke University, here are 3 reasons why universal autism screening of young children aged 1-3 should be conducted.

1. Autism is a prevalent and high-cost condition. The most recent (2012) survey in the United States found that autism affects 1 in 68 children. It is associated with significant short- and long-term economic and emotional burdens to families and to society. The lifetime cost of supporting an individual with ASD has been placed at $1.4 million. For an individual with ASD and intellectual disability, the estimated lifetime cost almost doubled to $2.4 million.

2. Autism screening in young children can be done in timely manner and with adequate reliability.. The most commonly used tool is a parent questionnaire that requires little training by the health care professionals, can take 5 minutes and, if further questioning is warranted, can take only an additional 10 to 15 minutes. The measured ability of the screening tools to detect a positive diagnosis (sensitivity) and of detecting the absence of the diagnosis (specificity) is high.

3. When early screening does take place, this leads to early diagnosis, which leads to earlier referral and intervention. Professionals using the screening instruments may be able to detect ASD symptoms earlier than some parents. Further, much evidence has shown that early intervention can result in significant improvements in cognitive and language outcomes.

Reference: Dawson, Geraldine, JAMA Pediatrics, Editorial , February 16, 2016. Why It’s Important to Continue Universal Autism Screening While Research Fully Examines Its Impact.

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