In honor of the anniversary of Autism Speaks’ founding on Feb 25, for the next 25 days we will be sharing stories about the many significant scientific advances that have occurred during our first five years together. Our first item, New AAP Policy and Guidelines, is from Autism Speaks’ Top 10 Autism Research Events of 2007.
After years of parents urging for earlier diagnosis and better treatments, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) issued two new clinical reports in October 2007 that will help pediatricians recognize autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) earlier and guide families to effective interventions.
The first report provides detailed information on signs and symptoms so that pediatricians can recognize and assess ASDs in their patients. More specifically, the report introduces universal screening, which means pediatricians must now conduct formal ASD screening on all children at 18 and 24 months regardless of whether there are any concerns. The second report reviews educational strategies and associated therapies, which are the cornerstones of treatment for ASDs, and confirms that early intervention is crucial for effective treatment. The report states that a child diagnosed with autism should be actively engaged in intensive intervention at least 25 hours per week, 12 months per year, with a low student-to-teacher ratio allowing for sufficient one-on-one time. The report further states the importance for pediatricians to become knowledgeable about complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) therapies, ask families about current and past CAM use, and provide balanced treatment information.
The new guidelines will hopefully assure that at-risk children are finally appropriately referred without further delay. Both reports are part of a new AAP toolkit for pediatricians “AUTISM: Caring for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders: A Resource Toolkit for Clinicians,” which includes screening and surveillance tools, guideline summary charts, management checklists, developmental checklists, developmental growth charts, early intervention referral forms and tools, sample letters to insurance companies and family handouts.
Update since this story was first run: To respond to the AAP recommendations for evaluation by primary care providers of 18 and 24 months olds with suspected ASDs, in 2009 members of Autism Speaks’ High Risk Baby Siblings Research Consortium (BSRC) published an article in Pediatrics outlining several early signs of autism that physicians and other health care providers should be aware of. The paper also identifies potential screening tools that may be used to detect early behavioral indicators. Importantly, the authors address the challenges that primary care providers face in communicating the meaning of these early signs and symptoms.