Clinicians Miss Signs of AutismMany children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are not diagnosed until they reach school, even though it is possible to diagnose children sooner. One reason for this, according to new research from Brigham Young University (BYU), is short pediatric visits. The new study reveals that typical pediatric exams are over before clinicians can detect autism risk. The findings suggest that parents and clinicians may need to take a more active role in seeking evaluations for autism spectrum disorder.

For the study, autism experts analyzed 10-minute videos of children’s behavior in a clinical setting. The children were aged 15 to 33 months. Some of the children had ASD, some had speech delays, and others had typically development. The autism experts documented the typical and atypical behaviors that each child exhibited during a 10-minute visit with a pediatrician. The experts then correlated the ratio of typical and atypical behaviors to the clinicians’ referral decisions.

A typical 10 to 20 minute pediatric exam does not provide enough information about the symptoms of ASD for clinicians to detect the risk of autism in most cases. The study determined that even children with ASD exhibit mostly typical behaviors in a short clinical visit and most clinicians are not able to make appropriate referrals. The autism experts who evaluated the children’s behavior missed referrals for 39 percent of the children with ASD, based on the 10-minute observation.

Lead study author and BYU assistant professor Terisa Gabrielsen hopes that this study will help parents and clinicians to make better decisions about referrals for autism screenings. “It’s often not the pediatrician’s fault that referrals are missed. Even autism experts missed a high percentage of referrals within that short timeframe. Decisions for referral need to be based on more information, including autism screening and information from parents.”

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends a formal autism screening for children aged 18 to 24 months.

This research is published in the journal Pediatrics.

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