Task force in quandary over early screening for autism

Autism is a spectrum condition. This means that while most autistic patients share certain problems, at times what they see, hear and feel may vary. The screening for autism spectrum disorder, or ASD, takes place between the ages of 18 and 30 months in the United States. However, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) is casting doubts over the benefits and harms associated with autism screening in young children.

According to a February 2016 report, the task force expressed its concern over the regular screening done among young children, as part of the routine checkup, which is often carried out even though a parent or caregiver does not report any developmental problems in such children. Officials are of the opinion that not enough evidence is available whether such screenings can actually help early diagnosis of the disease in children. The findings were published in the Journal of the American Medical.

Dr. David Grossman, vice-chairman, USPSTF, said, “The task force found we need more research to understand whether screening very young children who don’t have obvious symptoms for autism benefits them in the long-term.”

“We need to know more about the best age to screen, the best method to use, and weather screening all children ultimately improves their quality of life,” Dr. Grossman added.

Furthermore, the screenings do not hold much importance, and at times, are completely unproductive when the children exhibit normal development and behavior. According to the USPSTF, clinical decisions should be based more on considerations and not just evidence and that clinicians should take the decision after looking at the specific patient or situation.

Children may face autism-related challenges without autism diagnosis

A 2015 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), titled “Study to explore early development (SEED)” and published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, found that young children may not fulfill all the criteria of autism diagnosis but they may still show varying degrees of autism-related symptoms. Such cases deserve attention and early intervention, according to experts.

It said that around one third of the children who demonstrate “other developmental delays” may experience certain symptoms of autism. For example, a child might avoid eye contact, show little interest in other children or get annoyed or upset even with little changes in the daily routine but may   not qualify for ASD diagnosis. However, even such minor problems can pose significant challenges in daily life.

Lead author Lisa Wiggins said, “Our study demonstrates the importance of recognizing autism-related challenges among different types of children, including those with or without an autism diagnosis.”

Behavioral intervention best treatment for children with ASD

ASD is usually characterized by impairments in intelligence and concentration. Other symptoms include difficulties in motor coordination, attention and physical health issues, including sleep and gastrointestinal issues. The problem is more common in boys than in girls, said the CDC. The National Health Interview Survey conducted by the CDC in 2014 revealed that over 2.2 percent American children between three and 17 years of age suffer from behavioral disorder, marked by communication and social skills disability. Treatments for young children with ASD are primarily focused on behavioral interventions, particularly early intensive behavioral and developmental interventions.

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