Legislators urge universal autism screening

African American doctor examines child
Universal Autism Screening

U.S. Reps. Chris Smith (R-NJ) and Mike Doyle (D-PA), co-chairs of the Congressional Autism Caucus, wrote a letter to the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force on October 1, calling on the agency to reverse its recommendation on screening for autism spectrum disorders.

On August 3, the USPSTF released draft recommendations on early age autism screening, saying the evidence was “inconclusive” for it to recommend screening for all children between age 18 and 24 months.

Although it recommended that doctors use their best judgment in determining whether individual children should be screened, the guidance contradicts that of the American Academy of Pediatrics, which recommends universal screening for children in this age group.

“Given that autism screening is cheap, quick and minimally invasive, universal screening should be required,” the letter states, which is signed by 17 legislators. “The limited – if any – downside does not outweigh the tremendous benefits of early screening.

“Early screenings lead to early intervention. It is undeniable that a delay in diagnosis leads to a delay in a child with autism receiving the early intervention and treatment services that are critical to long-term development.”

The letter mirrors the response from advocacy groups, such as Autism Speaks, to the USPSTF’s recommendations.

“Screening for ASD is expressly designed to draw the attention of physicians and caregivers to signs and symptoms that are already present, but are not recognized,” Autism Speaks wrote in a statement in August. “The Task Force states that it supports evaluation of children in whom symptoms are already detected by caregivers or physicians, but such detection of symptoms is, by definition, screening. Systematic screening for ASD is proven to be superior to non-systematic screening, and thus should be performed universally.”

The latest report from the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, released in March 2014, found that the childhood rate of autism spectrum disorders is increasing rapidly. The CDC found that 1 in 68 children now has evidence of autism, as opposed to 1 in 150 as recently as 2002.