Report: Autism Screening Should Be Standardized

The American Academy of Pediatrics calls for every child to be screened.

ByABC News
February 18, 2009, 2:49 PM

Oct. 29, 2007— -- Gabe Page is 4½ and was diagnosed with mild autism at age 2. His mom, Debbie, said that his early diagnosis has made a huge difference in how well he's doing now.

"Early intervention gave him a chance at having normal relationships and a normal life," she said.

But in Gabe's case, it took a pediatrician who saw the warning signs of autism the kind of early catch the American Academy of Pediatrics said should be the rule everywhere.

America's pediatricians now suggest that every child should be tested twice for autism at an early age. The disorder can be frightening it sneaks up on families, stealing their children's voices, personalities and futures, often before parents even know what's wrong.

The American Academy of Pediatrics' report calls for "a standardized autism-specific screening on all children," at 18 months old and again at 24 months, that should become as routine as being weighed or immunized.

"One-year-old is the new frontier. Our lab has been able to put out information about the early signs of autism in 1-year-olds very close to the first birthday," said Rebecca Landa, the director of the Kennedy Krieger Institute Center for Autism and Related Disorders.

The screening seems short and simple. The pediatrician only needs to check whether a child responds to being called by name, smiles when smiled at and plays with an offered toy. It may sound simple, but these tests are not taught in medical school, and studies show pediatricians have a poor track record at spotting autism early.

Mothers have told ABC News again and again how their suspicions that their children were autistic fell on deaf ears.

"My pediatrician just said, 'You know what? You're worrying too much,'" Karen Siff Exxkorn said.

Months, even years during which autistic kids could be helped are lost when pediatricians like Siff Exxkorn's fail to recognize the symptoms.

To prevent this, experts say it's very important that pediatricians become familiar with the first symptoms of autism.

Judith Block runs the Variety Child Learning Center in Syosset, N.Y., which puts pediatricians face-to-face with autistic kids so that they see what autism looks like firsthand.

"Each child doesn't look like the other child who is autistic," Block said.