AUG 24, 2016 6:24 AM PDT

Age Matters in Autism Diagnosis

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and autism are both names for a group of complex disorders of brain development. These disorders present in different ways depending on the person but almost always include difficulties in social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication and repetitive behaviors. 
Autism appears to have its roots in very early brain development, but signs are not usually apparent to caregivers and parents until a child is 2 or 3 years old. 
 An early diagnosis offers better therapy options
The timing of a diagnosis of an autism spectrum disorder is significant and a recent study shows that children diagnosed before the age of 4 are more likely to get effective, evidence-based treatment, such as behavioral therapy. Like many cognitive issues, the younger a child is when interventions are started, the more successful they will be in treating the disorder and accompanying difficulties
 
Research published recently led by Katharine Zuckerman, M.D., M.P.H., at Oregon Health and Science University, in Portland, looked at 722 children ages 6 to 11 with an autism spectrum disorder. They compiled data on the use of health services, including behavioral intervention therapy, school-based therapy (including social skills training, occupational therapy, physical therapy, or speech and language therapy), complementary and alternative medicine such as diet changes and supplemental vitamins and psychotropic medications that treat depression, anxiety and ADHD.
 
The study noted that while parents normally brought their concerns over developmental issues and other factors to the attention of a health care provider around the age of 2, the average age of an ASD diagnosis was just over 4 years old. The study also showed a correlation between a time lapse of more than two years between the first conversation with their child’s doctor and the use of alternative medicine and treatments. These therapies such as restricted diets, nutritional supplements and other therapies are seen as controversial by many medical practitioners and parents using them were more likely to delay seeking traditional treatments.
 
Most of the research on ASDs points to early intervention and behavioral therapy as the best way to reduce some of the more troubling symptoms of autism such as social skills, rigid and inflexible attitudes and routines and self-stimulating behaviors like hand flapping and rocking. The team in Oregon said the results of their data collection show that the sooner a child can be evaluated for autism, the better the outcome will be for that child.
 
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that all children be screened for autism at 18 months and at 24 months, but only about half of pediatricians conduct these kinds of screenings. In an interview with The Oregonian, Dr. Zuckerman stated, “The problem is, in the U.S., kids just aren't getting screened. Most pediatricians still aren't doing it. There is a problem of awareness and some doctors don't know what to do if they get a positive test. Whether the parents are unaware or the doctors are uneducated, it's a big problem for the health care system."
 
The non-profit organization Autism Speaks has an online screening available to parents and caregivers on their website here. The screening, The Modified Checklist for Autism in Toddlers, Revised (M-CHAT-R) is the same checklist  used by medical professionals. The video below talks more about the importance of screening children at a younger age and the benefits of early intervention.

Sources: OregonLiveAutism Speaks American Psychiatric Organization
About the Author
  • I'm a writer living in the Boston area. My interests include cancer research, cardiology and neuroscience. I want to be part of using the Internet and social media to educate professionals and patients in a collaborative environment.
You May Also Like
FEB 24, 2020
Genetics & Genomics
FEB 24, 2020
Circular RNAs May Play a Role in Psychiatric Disorders
The genome contains the sequences for many genes that code for proteins. There are also regions and chemical tags that h ...
APR 08, 2020
Neuroscience
APR 08, 2020
Study Catalogs Mouse Facial Expressions
It's easy to gauge a dog or cat's emotion by reading their facial expression, but the same has been historically ...
APR 23, 2020
Technology
APR 23, 2020
Device That Mimic Brain Signaling
A decade ago, researchers hoped for a frontier of neuromorphic computing using a device known as ‘memristors&rsquo ...
MAY 06, 2020
Neuroscience
MAY 06, 2020
The Brain Replays Waking Experiences While You Sleep
Researchers have found that while we sleep, our brains are busy processing our waking experiences. A process called &lsq ...
MAY 06, 2020
Cannabis Sciences
MAY 06, 2020
Does Cannabis Damage Focus and Memory in Teenagers?
As cannabis products become more mainstream, increasing numbers of people from every age bracket are using them. Researc ...
MAY 25, 2020
Genetics & Genomics
MAY 25, 2020
FDA Approves the First Treatment for Neurofibromatosis 1
In a major breakthrough, the Food and Drug Administration has approved a treatment for a genetic disorder called neurofi ...
Loading Comments...