Parents’ Input Key When Screening Toddlers for Autism

By Steven Reinberg
HealthDay reporter

MONDAY, May 17, 2021 (HealthDay News) – Detecting autism early can speed up diagnosis and treatment, and now new research shows pediatricians are more likely to act when parents voice concerns.

According to pediatricians interviewed in the study, only 39% of toddlers who failed screening for signs of autism were then referred for further expert assessment.

“The lack of referral tracking was because pediatricians thought the screen results were wrong,” said lead researcher Karen Pierce, a professor in the Department of Neuroscience at the University of California, San Diego.

However, “if a parent has indicated they are concerned, the referral rate has increased to 70%,” Pierce said in a press release from the college.

“If you’re a parent and have even minor concerns about your child’s development, you need to speak up. Do not wait. Your voice has weight, ”she advised.

For the study, his team used a network of 203 pediatricians who screened more than 59,400 infants or toddlers during their 12, 18 and 24 month exams.


Parents also completed a questionnaire on their child’s use of eye contact, words, gestures and other forms of communication.

Pediatricians were asked to indicate whether they referred infants for further assessment and, if not, why.

In all, nearly 900 children failed screening and underwent further assessment. Of those children, more than 400 were diagnosed with autism, according to the study’s authors.

About 60% of these children were assessed during their 12 month wellness visits and received a full assessment, diagnosis and referral for treatment at 15 months.

“There is a lot of evidence that early therapy can have a positive impact on brain development,” Pierce said. “The ability to diagnose and therefore begin treatment for autism around a child’s first birthday has enormous potential to change the outcome of children with this disorder. These toddlers … started treatment about three years earlier than the national average of 52 months.

The report was recently published in The Journal of Pediatrics.

More information

To learn more about autism, visit the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

SOURCE: University of California, San Diego, School of Medicine, press release, May 10, 2021

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