Early Identification of Autism is Essential
Once again, autism finds itself in the spotlight with a 6-year longitudinal study from South Korea that found a shocking 2.6% of all school children have an autistic spectrum disorder. In the United States, the CDC reports that 1 in 110 (or 1.1%) of all children have an ASD diagnosis. The difference in rates may be attributed to the fact that every child aged 7-12 in the town of Ilsan was screened. That’s right, every child.
We also know that the average age children are diagnosed with ASD in America is 5.7 years old, when, in fact, the disorder can be detected by professionals even sooner. Though diagnostic measures, such as the Autism Diagnostic Observation Scales (ADOS) are reliable as young as two and a half years of age, the gold standard is still the clinical judgment of an experienced psychologist or neurodevelopmental pediatrician who has seen, worked with, and diagnosed many young children with autistic spectrum disorders. A skilled clinician may be able to make a diagnosis as early as 15-18 months.
Early diagnosis is essential so that parents can seek early intervention as soon as possible. Typically, a town or city’s health department provides screening and if the child qualifies, he/she may be entitled to early intervention services at no cost to the family. For children with autism, behaviorally-based treatment or applied behavior analysis (ABA) in combination with speech therapy and other augmentative therapies such as occupational or physical therapy can make a dramatic difference in a child’s early development.
The key is making sure a child suspected of having autism is identified as soon as possible is effective screening. An NIH-funded study is currently testing the feasibility of a five-minute screen that identifies some of the subtle signs of autism in 12 month olds. Caregivers would be able to complete the checklist in their pediatrician’s waiting rooms. The Communication and Symbolic Behavior Scales Developmental Profile Infant-Toddler Checklist, is a brief questionnaire that poses questions about the infant’s use of eye gaze, verbalizations, gestures, objects and developmentally-appropriate communication skills. Those who did not pass the screen were referred for further assessment and re-evaluated at six-month intervals until they turned three.Continued on the next page