Doctors’ Group Recommends Screening Every Baby for Autism
The American Academy of Pediatrics has changed its guidelines on autism screening in infants.
The new recommendations require doctors to conduct formal screenings on every child at ages eighteen months and twenty-four months. Doctors will look for symptoms such as failure to make eye contact, communication delays like a lack of babbling or pointing to objects, or any kind of regression. Two-year-olds usually have two-word phrases and some social skills.
“If you recognize it earlier, you get them into treatment earlier,” said Dr. Scott Myers, a pediatrician who helps other doctors manage and identify autism.
Autism is a complex developmental disorder with symptoms that range from mild awkwardness to severe mental retardation. It affects one in every 150 American children and seems to be on the rise.
The new recommendations appear in the journal Pediatrics.
Doctors Test for Behavior Disorders in Preschoolers as Young as Two
Some pediatricians try to detect autism by the way babies focus their eyes. Now others are devising tests for behavioral disorders like oppositional defiant disorder and conduct disorder in children as young as two years.
The idea is to diagnose these problems at an early age so that the children’s behaviors do not escalate into stealing, vandalism, rape and other forms of violence in adolescence.
While the majority of two-year-olds throw tantrums and display aggression, some of them have behaviors that might be symptoms of psychological disorders requiring treatment.
Dr. Lauren Wakschlag, associate professor at the Institute for Juvenile Research at the University of Illinois in Chicago, tests preschoolers for disruptive behavior disorders.
“The kids are asked to perform very simple tasks that might lead to frustration,” Dr. Wakschlag said. “They have to clean up their toys. They have to wait. They have to take turns.”
Often children with disruptive behavior disorders have similar behaviors as normal children, but to a different degree. Their tantrums may last twenty minutes and occur fifteen times a day. They may hold their breaths until they pass out.
“What we find is that the parent tries to intercede and the kid escalates,” Dr. Patrick Tolan, director of the Institute, said. “The parent withdraws and that increases the probability that it will happen again.”
If the Institute researchers detect DBDs, they refer parents to therapists to help them better handle the aggressive behaviors.
This study appears in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry.
New Trend to Diagnose Autism and ADHD in Infants
Can doctors tell if babies are autistic, mentally retarded or have Attention Deficit Disorder?
Several ongoing studies indicate that diagnosing infants with developmental disability disorders might become more common in the future. For example:
• A recent government report from the Center for Disease Control and the Interdisciplinary Council on Developmental and Learning Disorders includes a list of very early warning signs, such as a two-month-old baby’s failure to focus on new sounds and sights. The Center recommends that pediatricians screen babies for developmental disorders. This report emphasizes the importance of early diagnosis, noting that 17% of American children have such disorders but less than half receive a diagnosis before age five.
• Dr. Stanley Greenspan, who co-authored the government report, is researching whether very early interventions, such as behavior training, can help infants and preschool children with Attention Deficit Disorder or autism.
• Dr. Fred Volkmar at Yale University is currently determining whether infants who focus on objects rather than people are more likely to suffer from autism. “We are on the verge of being able to do a much better job” of detecting developmental disorders in infants, he said.
• Finally, researchers at the University of Illinois in Chicago are performing a five-year study of the relationship between infant crying and autism.
Diagnosing babies with developmental disorders is controversial. For example, one British doctor, Dr. Michael Fitzpatrick, warns that “the extension of these categories to include 20 to 30 percent of all children reflects a social trend of pathologizing and medicalizing children’s lives.”