After years of parents urging for earlier diagnosis and better treatments, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) issued two new clinical reports in October 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.