Government Panel Questions Universal Autism Screening
With autism rates rising, experts have pushed for years to expand screening for the developmental disorder to all children. But now an influential government panel is saying not so fast.
The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force issued a draft proposal Monday saying that there is too little evidence to support autism screening for every child.
“The USPSTF concludes that the current evidence is insufficient to assess the balance of benefits and harms of screening for autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in children for whom no concerns of ASD have been raised by their parents or clinical provider,” the panel said in a statement.
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The task force is a 16-member panel of doctors that’s authorized by Congress and overseen by a division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The group’s recommendations can have widespread implications in the medical community.
The proposal, however, runs counter to guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics which recommends screening for all children at ages 18 and 24 months.
The pediatrics group said they remain committed to their standards, adding that screening increases the odds that a child will be spotted and treated early, positioning them for the best outcome.
“Early identification and referral for appropriate intervention are critical to ensuring that children with autism have access to effective therapies,” said Sandra Hassink, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics. “Research shows that early intervention can considerably improve children’s long-term development and social behaviors.”
Officials with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say that far too many kids on the spectrum don’t get identified soon enough, with most children diagnosed after age 4 even though the condition can be flagged as early as age 2. Universal screening has been widely touted as a way to reduce the typical age of diagnosis.
Advocates with Autism Speaks and the Autism Science Foundation called the task force’s statement “troubling.”
“Screening is quick, affordable and has no substantial risk,” the groups said in a joint statement. “Every child deserves an early, accurate diagnosis, and we are hopeful that after the review period the USPSTF will fully recommend autism screening for all children.”
The proposal is up for public comment through the end of August.