Recent Debate on Autism Screening: You Decide

October 7, 2015 | Abrams Nation

Last month the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force (USPSTF) worked on putting together an official recommendation on screening for autism spectrum disorders (ASD) in young children. When they published their initial draft recommendation statement, it immediately sparked a debate among physicians, pediatricians, and specialists.

Universal Screening vs. Symptomatic Screening

The big debate is not whether autistic screening should be done at all, but when the screening should be done.

Universal Autism screening would provide ASD screening for all children between 18 months and 30 months old.

Symptomatic Autism screening will only be done when a child is exhibiting signs or symptoms of autism.

USPSTF: “Not enough evidence to make a recommendation” for universal screening.

The draft statement issued by the panel withheld support for universal screening. According to Dr. Grossman, a pediatrician and vice chairman of the panel, the statement isn’t against screening. Instead, it cites a lack of evidence to support screening of healthy children who don’t show any ASD symptoms or signs.

Per their findings, there’s not enough evidence that autism can exist in the absence of symptoms. Extensive screening of asymptomatic children could cause unneeded anxiety and stress on the child and the family. They urge further research to determine whether this stress is worth the early screening.

The Argument for Universal Screening

Many specialists, pediatricians, and physicians disagree with the recommendation, urging that universal screening can be a valuable tool in the early diagnosis and treatment of autism. Like the panel, the experts agree that autism doesn’t often occur in the complete absence of symptoms or signs.

The problem, however, is when people don’t recognize the signs. Dr. Lisa Shulman, a developmental pediatrician who specializes in ASD treatment, points to several examples where parents or pediatricians missed keys signs of autism. Sometimes these symptoms can be relatively minor, but they would be caught by a simple screening.

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