Universal Autism Screening: Why I Believe It's Absolutely Necessary

Early autism screening for all children at 18 and 24 months has long been recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics, so many parents, professionals, and pediatricians were surprised this week when the US Preventive Task Force (USPTF), a volunteer task force comprised of medical professionals, withheld a recommendation for universal early screening in a proposal draft. Members of the task force were quick to note that they weren't looking to change ordinary practices in a pediatrician's office, meaning that parents who come in with concerns about ASD will still have their children screened. What this could mean, however, if the panel's recommendation is followed, is that some doctors might miss early signs of autism that a universal screening tool could have picked up.

The task force has called for more research, and as a mom to a 7-year-old with autism, I agree that more research needs to be done into the disorder. But, frankly, I'm baffled by the task force's recommendation. As the CDC says on their website, "Children with autism spectrum disorder are not being diagnosed as early as they could be. [...] This delay means that children with an ASD might not get the help they need."

The autism screening test is simple, non-invasive, and involves doctors asking a series of questions. It doesn't take much time, it doesn't cost any extra money, and it could certainly steer kids who may have less obvious signs of autism into early intervention programs. So, really, what's the harm in universal screening?

The USPTF is open for comments from the public on their recommendation here, so if you feel they've made a mistake in not recommending universal screening, you can leave them a note before the forum closes at the end of the month. I'm headed there now to share my thoughts on the necessity for universal autism screening.

Jamie Pacton lives near Portland where she drinks loads of coffee, dreams of sailing, and enjoys each day with her husband and two sons. Find her at www.jamiepacton.com, Facebook (Jamie Pacton), and Twitter @jamiepacton

Image: "Family Doctor Examination" via Shutterstock

A simple test developed by the Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore may be able to help determine whether a child will develop autism and other forms of developmental delays. The pull-to-sit test, done in infants as young as six months old, monitors whether or not a child has head lag, or trouble controlling his neck and head. While the test is not a diagnosis, children with head lag have a higher risk of autism or other social or communication delays.


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