A recent study about the age of diagnosis for Autism Spectrum disorder, presented its findings at Pediatric Academic Societies meeting in Baltimore, on May 1, 2016, and concluded that more children are being diagnosed earlier with the disorder after the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended universal screening for the children aged eighteen and twenty-four months, along with the lowering of percentage of children being diagnosed after their third birthday by thirty seven percent after the policy proposal.
American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) in 2007 recommended the pediatricians to screen all the patients for ASD at their scheduled 18 and 24 month child visits. AAP recommended these changes to be more inclusive of, all of the children specially Latino and African American who are getting diagnosed much later than whites. The recommendations for universal screening for such a disorder are unprecedented.
In February 2016, the United States Preventive Services Taskforce, concluded that not enough evidence was present to say that universal testing should or should not be adopted. It was a call for more research and not a recommendation for or against universal testing.
The study provided a unique perspective for the scientists to look into the effects of policy change on people suffering from autism spectrum disorder (ASD), as according to the study earlier diagnosis means earlier interventions.
The latest study used the data of all the children in Bronx at a University Affiliated Developmental Center. All the considered cases were diagnosed between 2003 and 2012. The 512 cases were racially diverse with forty seven percent Hispanics, sixteen percent whites and twenty six percent African Americans.
The researchers found that out of the total children the ones born before 2005 were diagnosed with autism disorder at a mean age of 46±15months, while children born after 2005 were aged 31±12 months on average at the time of diagnosis. The point of difference between the diagnosis ages becomes 15 months (more than a year). According to the study this is significant because early interventions have shown better long term results for the patient diagnosed with ASD in the past.
The scientists also found that the percentage of children diagnosed with the disorder after the age of three in their study, decreased to twenty six percent post- 2005 from sixty three percent before. The study also found that association of diagnosis of the disorder in children after the age of three with being born post- 2005 was significant after adjusting for clinical characteristics and demographics.
The findings however are considered preliminary until they are published in a peer-reviewed journal.
The chief scientist, Dr Maria Valicenti-McDermott (MS) who is an attending physician at the Children’s Evaluation and Rehabilitation Center at Montefiore Health System and an assistant professor of pediatrics at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, put it in plain words and explained in AAP press release that their research showed that before AAP recommendations of universal screening, children were more likely to be diagnosed at an older age and with more ‘severe autistic symptoms and more impaired adaptive functioning’.
Dr Valicenti-McDermott termed the AAP recommendations and the earlier diagnosis as a ‘critical shift’ in the light of current research efforts; showing the considerable impacts of what an early health management intervention for a child with ASD can entail.
She also emphasized that the significant drop in the diagnosis age showed similar trends in all ethnicities including African American and Latino children which is significant as later diagnosis are linked with demographic factors such as race, fewer concerns of the families about possible symptoms of autism, and potential worse overall outcomes.
In regard with the US Preventive Services Task Force conclusions, she agreed that more research is needed as it remains unclear whether the improvement in rates and earlier than expected diagnosis is the result of the national campaign to increase awareness of ASD or the new AAP policy protocols.
The 2012 data collected by Centers for Disease control and prevention (CDC) about prevalence and incidence of autism among 8-year-old children in 11 communities within Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Georgia, Maryland, Missouri, New Jersey, North Carolina, South Carolina, Utah, and Wisconsin, suggests that every 1 in 68 child has some form of autistic disorder in America.
The statistics caused an alarm in the communities and autism became a hot topic of discussion. Currently the interest in the subject is rising again and nearing the 2008 levels when the interest became an all-time high due to ‘vaccine causes autism’ argument, especially in United States and Australia.
The authorities however have implied that the sudden rise in the cases can be attributed to better understanding of the disorder after scientific research and the following diagnostic criterion guidelines available for the doctors right now.
The American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 5th edition (DSM-5) classifies the autism spectrum as and encompassing, autism, asperger syndrome, childhood disintegrative disorder, and pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS). No causes for the disease are known but the scientists based on current knowledge, predicts them as genetic, environmental or social.
Nearly 3.5 million people in United States live with the autism spectrum disorder and one percent of the current United Kingdom population has the same diagnosed disorder.
UC Davis economists predict that autism will cost America nearly $461 billion in 2025.