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Universal Autism Screenings for Toddlers Questioned

The Short of It

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that all children be screened for autism at ages 18 months and 24 months. But this week, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force released a proposal that says there's not enough evidence to recommend universal screening,

The Lowdown

Currently, doctors routinely check if toddlers are meeting appropriate milestones or showing signs of developmental disorders, and they ask parents if they have any concerns, such as lack of eye contact, so they know whether to recommend appropriate diagnostic testing.

"You identify the kids early; you get them to treatment early; and the outcome is better," said Dr. Susan E. Levy of the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and AAP's autism subcommittee.

But in its proposal, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force questions at what age and what types of tests should be used for autism screenings. The group says more research is needed and until there is more evidence, doctors and parents should ultimately decide whether or not toddlers should be tested.

According to the task force vice chairman and pediatrician, Dr. David Grossman, early treatment has been helpful for children with severe symptoms, but it hasn't been studied in children who have mild symptoms, which may be caught only in screening.

"We're not saying it's the wrong thing. We're just saying we're not sure," Grossman said.

The Upshot

The task force is welcoming public comments on this issue until August 31, 2015.

According to the PDF of the draft recommendation, "It is thought that about 1 in 68 children in the United States has ASD. It is more common in boys than in girls, in some regions of the United States, and in some races/ethnicities than in others. Scientists do not know what causes ASD, though it is likely that genetics and environmental factors both play a role."

Do you feel all children should be screened for autism, regardless of symptoms?

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