Task Force Recommendation Against Autism Screening Challenged

Less than a week after an independent task force declined to endorse a recommendation for routine early screening of autism spectrum disorder in children, a group of researchers is challenging that assessment.

Diana Robins, PhD, an associate professor at the A.J. Drexel Autism Institute at Drexel University, and colleagues, say that many studies exist that support the idea that children should be screened for autism as early as possible since the earlier treatment begins, the more profound the improvements.

They also say time is of the essence when it comes to screening. The reason is that when early screening is conducted, children who are on the autism spectrum can be diagnosed as early as two years of age. But without such screening, a child may not be screened until the age of four or later.

“There’s a growing body of evidence that the earlier you start treatment, the better the outcome,” Robins said in a statement. “When symptoms are emerging, it’s usually between a child’s first and second birthday. And they’re things that are not easy to measure by a doctor,” Robins said.

But even more important, Robins and her team say, is that autism screenings are a public health issue.

“Limiting or decreasing universal screening will have deleterious long-term effects on children with or at risk for autism spectrum disorder,” they wrote in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders. “Additionally, many professionals who work with families and young children are counting on universal screening as a key mechanism for the elimination of existing racial/ethnic and class disparities in the age at diagnosis and start of intervention.”

The group, however, did agree with the United States Preventive Services Task Force’s position that more studies on the long-term follow-up of children whose autism was detected during primary care screening are needed.

In 2006, the American Academy of Pediatrics backed early childhood screening and surveillance, which has three parts. However, a study found that only 17% of pediatricians were conducting all three elements.