Early screening tool leads to earlier diagnosis and treatment for autism spectrum disorder

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Since its debut in 2011, the Get SET Early program, which allows pediatricians and parents to relatively easily search for indicators of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in children 1 year old, has steadily increased in use and validation. Early screening and identification of ASD has been linked to more effective treatment.

A new study published in the April 26, 2021 issue of the Journal of Pediatrics by researchers at the University of California’s San Diego School of Medicine further supports these findings.

Led by Karen Pierce, Ph.D., a professor in the Department of Neurosciences who and colleagues created the Get SET Early program, researchers at the UC San Diego Autism Center of Excellence (ACE) have a network of 203 pediatricians in the San Diego region that systematically screened 59,411 infants or young children during their 12-, 18-, and 24-month exams.

Parents completed a validated questionnaire about their child’s use of eye contact, words, gestures and other forms of age-appropriate communication either on paper or on an iPad. The final question about the screening tool: “Are you concerned about your child’s development?” (Yes or no).

Digital screens automatically rated patients as pass or fail. Pediatricians were asked to indicate whether they referred infants who failed screening for further evaluation, and if not, why not.

A total of 897 children failed the initial screening and were further evaluated at ACE. Within this cohort, 403 received a subsequent diagnosis of ASD. Approximately 60 percent of these children were screened during their 12 month baby visits and received a full assessment, diagnosis, and referral for treatment by 15 months of age.

“There is ample evidence that early therapy can have beneficial effects on the developing brain,” said Pierce, co-director of ACE. “The ability to diagnose and begin treatment for autism around a child’s first birthday has tremendous potential to change outcomes for children with the disorder. These toddlers started early as part of the Get SET Early program Treatment about three years earlier than the national average of 52 months. “

However, the study also yielded some surprising results: the participating pediatricians referred only 39 percent of the infants who failed screening for additional assessment.

“Data from the iPads suggests the referral was missing from the referral because pediatricians believed the screen’s results were incorrect,” Pierce said. “However, when a parent realized they were concerned by ticking ‘yes’ to the last question, the referral rate rose to 70 percent.

“These results underscore the importance of parental involvement and input in trying to identify the earliest signs of ASD or other developmental delays in young children. If you are a parent and have even minor concerns about your child’s development, you must speak up. Don’t wait. Your voice has weight. “

It is estimated that ASD affects 1 in 54 children born in the United States. Several studies, including research by Pierce and colleagues, have found that simple parenting checklists performed on a child’s first birthday can identify symptoms of ASD. Early diagnoses have shown themselves to be highly stable after just 14 months.

According to Pierce, the Get SET Early program, which has been expanded to other cities and states with funding from the National Institute of Mental Health, is practically free for any pediatrician practice.

Autism diagnoses prove to be very stable after just 14 months

More information:
Karen Pierce et al. Get SET Early to Identify and Treat Autism Spectrum Disorder at 1 Year and Discover Factors Affecting Early Detection, The Journal of Pediatrics (2021). DOI: 10.1016 / j.jpeds.2021.04.041 Provided by the University of California – San Diego

Quote: Early Screening Tool Guides Earlier Diagnosis and Treatment of Autism Spectrum Disorders (2021 May 10), accessed May 10, 2021 from https://medicalxpress.com/news/2021-05-early-screening- tool-earlier-diagnosis.html

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