Autism Symptoms and Screening
Medical Author: David Perlstein, MD FAAP
Medical Editor: William C. Shiel, Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
It is commonplace to have a family member or close friend with a child diagnosed with one of the autism spectrum disorders (ASDs, including autistic disorder, Asperger disorder, pervasive developmental disorder). These are a set of neurodevelopmental disabilities affecting young children and adults, which are currently not considered "curable". The goals of management include minimizing the symptoms and maximizing both independent function and quality of life. These are not uncommon disorders. Their prevalence has been estimated as approximately 6.5 per 1000 children, or 1 in every 150 children. Many believe that there is an "Autism Epidemic." However, as with many diseases and disorders, there are many reasons for this high prevalence.
Fortunately, significant media coverage and increased research have resulted in a better educated public and more vigilant healthcare practitioners. It is clear that early diagnosis and intervention are associated with better outcomes.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) published an updated guide for the "Management of Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders." In this publication, both background information and management choices are reviewed. In addition the AAP's approved "Surveillance and Screening Algorithm: Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs)" is introduced. Currently this translates into the following: All children should be screened for autism at 18 months and again at 2 years of age, and at any time a parent raises a concern about autism spectrum disorders (even if they have no signs of developmental delay). Although many health care practitioners were already screening, the process has been formalized and I expect that even more children will be referred, resulting in earlier diagnosis and intervention.