- New federal guidelines on autism spectrum disorder (ASD) say more evidence is needed to support routine screening of infants and toddlers who haven’t exhibited symptoms.
- The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) said its conclusion shouldn’t be taken as a recommendation not to conduct autism screenings, but as a “call for more research” to determine the direct link between early screening and improved outcomes.
- While screening children ages of 18 to 30 months has become fairly routine, there’s no way of knowing if it actually helps. Moreover, there are disparities in who gets diagnosed and treated.
In the U.S., ASD afflicts roughly one in 68 children, causing mild to severe cognitive and behavioral issues. While it’s unlikely the screening itself harms children, some families could be unnecessarily burdened if follow-up tests and treatments are prescribed, according to the guidelines.
“So far, research has appropriately focused on treatments for children who have symptoms, especially those who are severely affected,” David Grossman, vice chair of the USPSTF, told Reuters in an email.
The USPSTF also cites disparities in diagnosing and treating ASD, based on socioeconomic status, race, geography and other factors that influence access to care. The National Institute of Mental Health is supporting five large clinical trials on early identification of ASD and access to services aimed at clarifying the role of universal screening, speedy diagnosis and start of interventions.
“Such initiatives are a promising step in discerning the direct relationship of ASK screening and clinical outcomes,” the USPSTF said,
The guidelines could cause some insurers to stop reimbursing for autism screening, a point the USPSTF acknowledged but downplayed.