Early Autism Testing: Boon or Bane?

"Many of the warning signs are the very ones that often trouble parents months or years before a child is formally diagnosed with a developmental delay or disorder," she says. "Parents must learn to trust their instinct... They know their child best."

As for pediatricians, the reports urge these doctors to be aware of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) therapies that families dealing with autism may look to, such as diet restrictions, chelation therapy, and vitamin and mineral supplements.

Allaying -- or Causing -- Fear?

Some experts feel that screening may alleviate parents' uncertainties by obtaining an earlier diagnosis when parents already know that their child is "just not right." But others, such as University of Maryland's Shubin, are concerned that it may instill unnecessary fear due to incorrect diagnoses.

Also, because many ASDs are still not completely understood, there exists no "cure" per se, only treatment.

"Better treatment options need to be studied," says Dr. Steven Pavlakis, professor of neurology and pediatrics at Maimonides Medical Center in Brooklyn, N.Y.

But, Johnson says, this does not mean that early treatment cannot have significant benefits.

"There are meds that may improve --- although not cure -- their behavior," she adds.

Screening could also offer relief for other families who feel that something is not quite right with their child, only to discover that they do not have any form of ASD.

"Screening that shows their kids do not have autism should be a relief," says Dr. Mark Groshek, a pediatrician at Kaiser Permanente in Littleton, Colo.

Although surprised with the very small number of pediatricians that currently use standard tools to screen for autism-spectrum disorders, Groshek feels that the new guidelines are a "call to arms" for intervention, allowing pediatricians to more easily take the necessary steps, including referral to the appropriate specialist for a complete evaluation.

Groshek is also optimistic that early intervention would help them reach that level of function earlier and more completely.

"The change being suggested is to move much faster in getting services for kids who do or might have autism-spectrum disorders, based on screening," he adds.

Wiseman says she believes such early intervention was the key to her daughter's ability to overcome the odds.

"My daughter is a symbol of what early intervention is all about," she says.

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