A leading pediatricians group in the US is calling for early screening of every child for autism to catch the condition early and provide the best chances of successful intervention.

The American Academy of Pediatrics released two new reports at its annual meeting in San Francisco on Monday. The reports provide detailed inormation on symptoms to look out for and the call for early screening for autistic spectrum disorders (ASDs) and are also set to appear in the November issue of the journal Pediatrics.

The latest reports are part of a strong push by the group to have all children in the US screened for autism twice by the time they are 2 years old. Autism is now estimated to affect 1 in 150 children.

The news will be welcomed by many autism advocacy groups. It is widely thought that early diagnosis and behavioural therapy give autistic children the best chance of leading relatively normal lives. As yet however, there is a suprising lack of research to confirm this.

The reports are aimed at helping both parents and doctors spot the signs of autism. The group explained that the first symptoms that parents notice are language delays, at which point they will seek medical advice. They say however that there are earlier, less obvious signs, appearing at around 18 months, that may raise parental concerns sooner if they know what to look out for. These signs may include:

  • Not responding when parents call the child's name
  • Refusal to make eye contact with people
  • Being overly obsessed with specific toys
  • A lack of babbling
  • Smiling late

The reports do caution that a child displaying a few of these symptoms will not automatically be autistic and that parents shouldn't panic. If these signs are present it is however, it is certainly a good idea to discuss them with the child's doctor as soon as possible.

Report co-author Dr. Scott Myers, a neurodevelopmental pediatrician from Danville, Pa. explained that just because a child enjoys lining up toy cars or has temper tantrums "doesn't mean you need to have concern, if they're also interacting socially and also pretending with toys and communicating well."

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, once the diagnosis of autism has been made treatment should include at least 25 hours a week of intensive behavioural therapy. The reports state that this should include educational activities and speech therapy and include detailed information on several specific approaches they say are proven to be effective.

For very young children therapy may be less intense and involve more fun activities, such as play activities like ball games and sharing toys that can help to develop social skills. Repeated praise for behaviours that autistic childrend often avoid, such as eye contact, is strongly recommended.

The guidelines in the reports do not support the use of biomedical interventions such as a gluten and casein-free diet that many parents say have helped their kids.



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