Researchers from McMaster University in Hamilton, Ont., are rejecting plans to introduce routine screening for detecting autism in children. "There is not enough sound evidence to support the implementation of a routine population-based screening program for autism," said researchers in an online edition of the Journal of Pediatrics.
According to Dr. Jan Willem Gorter, a researcher in McMaster's CanChild Centre for Childhood Disability Research and associate professor of pediatrics, there are no effective screening tools currently in place, even though the American Academy of Pediatrics recently recommended that screening for autism be included as part of a child's regular physician check-up, regardless of whether parents have reported a concern.
A neurodevelopmental disorder with major life-altering implications, autism -- or the autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) -- has a wide-ranging list of early symptoms from social, communication skills, fine and gross motor skills and sometimes intellectual skills.
In the past thirty years, autism has become more prevalent (from 0.8 cases per 1,000 to 11 cases per 1,000 school-aged children). That increase is due, in part, to improved detection and changes in the way the disorder is diagnosed. Autism is more common in males with a 4:1 male-to-female ratio.
Still, McMaster researchers maintain the current procedures are not accurate or adequate enough to make a case for routine screening as held by the American Academy of Pediatrics.
"None of the autism screening tests currently available has been shown to be able to fulfill the properties of accuracy, namely high sensitivity, high specificity, and high predictive value (proportion of patients with positive test results who are diagnosed correctly) in a population-wide screening program," researchers said.
At this time, researchers viewed community screening of preschoolers as premature. Until screening measures improve, parents and medical staff are encouraged to carefully assess all preschoolers who show signs of language, social and cognitive problems.