Group Publishes Findings Backing New Standards for Diagnosing the Disorder
Irvine, Calif. -- Citing the possibility that thousands of children with autism go undiagnosed, a national panel headed by a UC Irvine College of Medicine researcher has recommended that family doctors begin looking for autism early in infancy so treatment can begin before the disease becomes severely debilitating.
Dr. Pauline Filipek, professor of pediatrics and neurology at UCI, led the group of 25 researchers that made the recommendations for the American Academy of Neurology and the Child Neurology Society. The recommendations, which appear in the December issue of the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, are based on a review of current research and back formal standards expected to be set by the associations sometime next year.
"Our research found that children with autism are often not diagnosed until age 5 or 6 but have had symptoms of the disorder for years," Filipek said. "We believe one reason for this is that the current practice of brief well-child visits does not provide enough time for primary care practitioners to screen for autism.
"In addition, more information should be disseminated not only among doctors, but among other health care workers, child-care center and school personnel, in order to increase our ability to catch and reverse this disorder at an early, more treatable, stage."
The researchers recommended that, beginning in infancy, every child's visit to the doctor include developmental screening for autism and that professionals involved in early child care learn to recognize the early signs of the disorder so children at risk can be treated as soon as possible.
The researchers also recommended that:
* Early-childhood workers, including school and day care personnel, look not only for signs of autistic behavior but also for learning problems, delays in language ability, and anxiety or depression, any of which could be signs of autism.
* Health workers and school personnel talk with families about autism in order to get information about their child's behavior at home and to keep them informed about treatments.
* Educational workers screen older children with mild symptoms of autism in classrooms and recreational settings such as playgrounds, where behavioral difficulties can be more apparent than in a doctor's office or a home.
* Physicians dedicate more time to screening young patients they suspect of having autism, and make sure a thorough neurological, hearing and speech examination is made before reaching a diagnosis.
* Further research be conducted to develop screening tools for infants and explore the roles played by brain activity, genetics and family environment in the development of autism.
Autism is a broad term covering a number of diseases, including Asperger's disorder, Rett's disorder and autistic disorder. In all of these, sufferers are socially impaired, have difficulty communicating both verbally and non-verbally and have repetitive and limited types of movements. Autism is not rare; researchers estimate that between 65,000 and 115,000 children under age 15 in the United States have some form of the disorder. The cause of autism is unknown, and researchers have been investigating the roles played by genes, social environment, diet and a host of other factors to determine what brings on the disorder.
The group headed by Filipek included researchers with the American Academy of Audiology, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, American Academy of Neurology, American Academy of Pediatrics, American Occupational Therapy Association, American Psychological Association, American Psychological Society, American Speech-Language Hearing Association, Autism National Committee, Autism Society of America, Child Neurology Society, Cure Autism Now, Society for Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics, Society for Developmental Pediatrics and the National Alliance for Autism Research. The group also worked with researchers at the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, National Institute of Deafness and Communication Disorders, National Institute of Mental Health and the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.
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