The earlier a child with autism can be identified and get treatment the better, child development specialists say. So there's been a push to have pediatricians give all toddlers screening tests for autism during well child visits.
But the influential U.S. Preventive Services Task Force said Tuesday that there's not yet enough evidence to show that screening all children delivers measurable benefits, a decision sure to frustrate or anger many in the autism community.
It's not a recommendation against screening, says Alex Kemper, a professor of pediatrics at the Duke University School of Medicine and a member of the panel. "It's really a call for more research to be done around treatment for children identified through screening."
Studies have found that it's possible to identify symptoms of autism such as avoiding eye contact or not responding to one's name in children as young as 18 months. But usually those children are flagged for screening because a parent or caregiver sees behavior they think is troubling. Most studies finding a benefit in early intervention have involved those children, not children who appear be developing typically.
Child development specialists say there's plenty of evidence in favor of early screening and intervention, and that avoiding it could delay or deny crucial treatment.