Should clinicians screen every single child under 3 for autism? The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force has addressed that question in a recent statement and the answer has advocacy groups and clinicians speaking out.
The technically independent but government-backed panel concludes there’s not enough evidence to recommend for or against screening all children for autism spectrum disorder.
“We are concerned that people will then take this further and say well, if there’s no evidence that it’s helpful or that it’s scientifically valid or useful, why should we do it?” said Dr. Susan E. Levy, chairwoman of the American Academy of Pediatric subcommittee on autism.
And mandating autism screening will help clinicians intervene early, said Dr. Mark Mintz, a pediatric neurologist who heads the Center for Neurological and Neurodevelopmental Health in New Jersey.
“If this report causes primary care and other providers to stop specific autism screenings, the result is going to be that many infants and children will not be diagnosed between 0 and 3. They’ll miss that opportunity for early intervention,” Mintz said
One in every 68 children has an autism spectrum disorder, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And while many pediatricians already look for signs, screening without regulation screening can be spotty.
“The government is probably looking at this a little bit more from an ideal perspective, saying that pediatricians do developmental screenings anyway, why add to their burden of an extra mandatory test?
“And that would be correct if everybody was doing those basic developmental screens. But in the real world, it’s just not happening,” Mintz said.
The taskforce called for more research on universal screening and invites comments from the public until Aug. 31.