New screening method could lower average age of autism diagnosis

A major study has revealed that an innovative clinical screening programme for autism could lower the average age of diagnosis “by years” and improve health outcomes in affected children.

According to the latest statistics, autism affects around one in every 100 people, meaning there are around 700,000 individuals on the autism spectrum in the UK.

Researchers at the Indiana University School of Medicine, who led the trial, believe that Early Autism Evaluation (EAE) could lower the age of diagnosis by around 18 months.

EAE is an innovative early autism spectrum disorder (ASD) screening and evaluation system used in the primary care setting. It works by training first-line doctors and clinicians to recognise the signs of the condition and perform an evaluation for autism and other neurodevelopmental conditions from an earlier age.

“The program addresses the long-standing nationwide problem of long wait times for families who are seeking evaluation for a developmental concern”, says the report.

The researchers looked at the outcome of some 2,000 young patients using different screening methods to assess diagnosis times.

While the latest data suggests that the average age of diagnosis stands at around 48 months and older, EAE was able to diagnose children from as young as 30 months.

EAE also reduced wait times significantly, from nine to 12 months in specialist diagnostic centres to 62 days in EAE-led practices.

Commenting on the success of the programme, lead author Rebecca McNally Keehn said: “By improving access to earlier high-quality diagnostic evaluations in children’s local communities, our hope is that children will be enrolled in evidence-based interventions that can improve developmental outcomes here in Indiana.”

“This system empowers communities to be able to provide life-changing diagnostic services locally, drastically altering the trajectory of development in children who previously remained without diagnoses until age five or older,” added medical doctor Naseer Syed, who took part in the study.

“To actively be a part of something that life-changing is a reward in and of itself. To witness the impact this has on the child and their family makes it all worthwhile.”

Autism changes the way people communicate and experience the world around them.

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Posted in Autism.