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Task Force: Not Enough Evidence to Support or Oppose Universal Autism Screening

There is not enough evidence to support or oppose screening kids for autism if they aren't showing symptoms, according to new guidelines.

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New U.S. guidelines conclude there is not enough evidence to decide if all toddlers and preschoolers should be screened for autism, instead saying doctors should continue to focus on those who show symptoms of having the disorder. This decision comes after the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force considered current information, and gathered input from health care professionals and the public.

Of course, many pediatrician's offices, like mine, perform screenings for kids between the ages of 18 and 30 months. Routine screening at this age is recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics. But according to the USPSTF, it isn't clear if this is helpful.

Dr. David Grossman, vice chair of the USPSTF, explains, "Our recommendation is not a recommendation against screening, but a call for more research." He added, "More research on the impact of screening and treatment in very young children whose parents or doctor have not noticed symptoms is an important next step to helping all children."

According to the NIH, symptoms of autism typically begin between the ages of 12 and 18 months and include repetitive behaviors like hand flapping or body rocking, extreme resistance to changes in routine, and aggression or self-injury.

Early Signs of Autism

In the absence of symptoms, the USPSTF says screening may place an unnecessary burden on families. It's worth mentioning there's no evidence screening itself is harmful to kids. What may be harmful, argue critics of the new guidelines, is that doctors and insurers can be less likely to allocate funding for autism research given these findings. Other critics say across-the-board screening would eliminate the likelihood of minorities, whose autism symptoms are less likely to be noticed, falling through the cracks.

According to the CDC, 1 in 68 kids is currently diagnosed with ASD.

The takeaway: If you notice any symptoms or developmental delays with your child, talk to your pediatrician. Be your own advocate.

Melissa Willets is a writer/blogger and a mom. Follow her on Twitter (@Spitupnsuburbs), where she chronicles her love of exercising and drinking coffee, but never simultaneously.