Quick Behavioral Observations Frequently Overlook Signs of Autism

Lynn Burton reads to her daughter Adelaide. Many toddlers her age are not receiving potentially life-saving autism screenings. | Medical XPress

Lynn Burton reads to her daughter Adelaide. Many toddlers her age are not receiving potentially life-saving autism screenings. | Medical XPress

Parents should not rely solely on a medical professional to detect a child’s autism, according to a new study published in the journal Pediatrics.

Research shows that bringing a child to a 10-20 minute pediatric behavior monitoring session is not sufficient to determine if a child has autism. Parents who trust that their child’s doctor will be thorough in their examination without paying attention to their child’s developmental signs day to day could be missing some key information.

These short sessions simply do not give the clinician enough time with your child to make an accurate diagnosis. The medical professional cannot gather enough information at a simple checkup. Thus, many children with autism will show normal behavior during this window, and will not get referred to a professional who can provide the treatment needed.

If autism symptoms are missed early on in a child’s life, they may miss a crucial point in their development in which early intervention is most effective. Autistic children who receive early intervention and treatment before age three have been shown to vastly conquer or eliminate their symptoms before entering school. Just like learning a new language, changing the child’s brain in this way becomes more difficult after they leave the toddler years behind.

In the study, ten minute videos of children ages 15-33 months were viewed by experts in the field. Children with autism, speech delays, and normal development were all included. It was found that the quick observation was not sufficient to gather accurate conclusions, and the experts missed 39 percent of the children with autism since they displayed typical behavior during this time.

The CDC reports that autism diagnoses have increased 30 percent during the past two years, when the statistic jumped from 1 in 88 to 1 in 68 children. This is why a correct diagnosis early on is especially important.

What this means for young children with autism is that they would benefit from more detailed observation. Exploring in-depth autism screenings and extra attention from parents are key steps in understanding a child’s development.

A parent usually knows their children more intimately than anyone else, and if educated properly, can recognize the symptoms of autism on their own, and alert the child’s care provider to determine the next step.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends a formal autism screening for children at the 18 and 24 month mark. A few simple screening tools that help parents know the signs to look for are available to use free of charge. One of these is the M-CHAT-R Checklist. Another resource to use is the CDCs Learn The Signs, Act Early campaign.