New research suggests that an otherwise rare speech disorder may affect nearly two-thirds of kids with autism, a finding that’s prompting calls for greater screening.

The condition called apraxia is estimated to affect just one or two out of every 1,000 children, but a study finds that 64 percent of children with autism may also have the speech disorder.

“Children with apraxia have difficulty coordinating the use of their tongue, lips, mouth and jaw to accurately produce speech sounds, so that each time they say the same word, it comes out differently, and even their parents have difficulty understanding them,” said Cheryl Tierney, an associate professor of pediatrics at the Penn State College of Medicine, who led the study published online in the Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics.

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Researchers looked at a group of 30 kids ages 15 months to 5 years who were referred for evaluations due to concerns about speech, language or autism. Of the children initially diagnosed with autism, nearly 2 out of 3 also had apraxia, the study found. Meanwhile, among those first flagged with apraxia, 36.8 percent were also found to have autism.

The findings are significant, researchers said, because symptoms of autism and apraxia can both be improved with early intervention, but the techniques used to address the conditions are different, making accurate diagnosis critical.

Tierney said that based on the study findings children diagnosed with autism or apraxia should be screened for the other condition until the time they start talking.

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