PHOENIX, Ariz. (Ivanhoe Newswire) — A new study from the Southwest Autism Research and Resource Center may change the paradigm of diagnosis. The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests kids be first screened for autism at 18 months. The study started screening kids at their year well baby checkup … six months earlier than recommended. That’s resulted in diagnoses and treatment years earlier.
Aiden DeCarlo was diagnosed with autism at 19 months in the early intervention study. He’s come to the Southwest Autism Research and Resource Center, or SARRC, for nearly a year.
“Big things that we see are in socialization. He enjoys playing around with friends. He really enjoys coming to school,” said Aiden’s dad Alex DeCarlo.
Before he came here, there were tantrums because he couldn’t communicate. In fact, his mom says he was communicating at a five-month-old’s level.
Amber Snowden, Aiden’s Mom said, “He’s now at between two and two and a half. In nine months, he’s gained a year and a half.”
SARRC research director Christopher J Smith, PhD launched the study five years ago. One hundred and nine pediatricians used a standardized questionnaire in well baby checkups at 12, 18, and 24 months. Diagnosis age plummeted from 55 months to an average of 22.
Smith said, “What we want to do is not wait until we see absolutely clear impairments. We want to act on those early warning signs and get parents to seek an evaluation sooner so they can get into treatment sooner.”
Families were referred to SARRC if screenings showed delays. Aiden was getting help more than two years before he might have been diagnosed outside the study.
“We took all of that lost time that happens as a result of the standard procedure of screening and diagnosing and gave that back to the family that they could better spend on intervention and helping their child move forward,” Smith explained.
Amber shared, “To see him in the not even a year that he’s already here at SARRC, how much he’s progressed is just completely amazing.”
The study ended in June, but the early screenings and diagnoses will continue thanks to funding from Arizona Complete Health. Smith is working to expand use of the standardized questionnaire and to train more pediatricians and diagnosticians, so families don’t have to wait so long for diagnosis and intervention. He says early intervention is the single best way to help kids with autism reach their potential.

Contributors to this news report include: Wendy Chioji, Field Producer; Bruce Maniscalco, Videographer; Cyndy McGrath, Supervising Producer; Ken Ashe, Editor.

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BACKGROUND: Autism, also known as autism spectrum disorder, is characterized by its conditions, which include challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech and nonverbal communication. Autism does not have one form; there are many subtypes that are influenced by genetic and environmental factors. Some people with autism may need a lot of help in their everyday lives, while others might not need any help and can live independently. That is because autism is a spectrum disorder which means each person is different and each has their own set of strengths as well as challenges. Autism affects 1 in 59 children in the United States today.

TREATMENT: Treatment for autism is different for all people. Each treatment or intervention needs to be structured specifically to the patient. Intervention can involve behavioral treatments, medicines or both. Most people with autism have additional medical conditions that when treated can improve attention, learning and related behaviors. Additional conditions include sleep disturbance, seizures and gastrointestinal distress. Behavioral treatments and interventions used on people with autism include applied behavior analysis, floor time, occupational therapy, speech therapy, and relationship development intervention. For families, it is important to work with your healthcare provider to make sure the right form of medication is taken and that is taken safely and effectively.

EARLY SCREENING: Christopher J Smith, PhD, SARRC Research Director developed a system of screening that would allow for all doctors to screen children the same the way and much earlier for autism. “What we did was we created a standardized screening procedure for pediatricians to follow during well baby visits. The 12, 18 and 24 months well baby visit, pediatricians use a standard, structured screening questionnaire to determine whether or not the child had any kind of delays,” said Smith. He says they want to start getting pediatricians to rely on results instead of their own clinical judgment. Smith added, “What we want to do is kind of reduce that variability and get all pediatricians to use a standardized, structured screening questionnaire. Now some of the most common screening questionnaires start for use at age 18 months. The one that we used in the screening projects can start at 12 months.” Early screening can catch warning signs and symptoms earlier allowing for children to start treatment earlier. “What we saw as a result of the project is that most children who were identified in this project, the most common age for diagnosis was roughly 22 months. And that is about three years earlier than what we would see outside of this project,” said Smith.
(Source: Christopher J. Smith, PhD)


Karen Scott
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