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Routine Autism Screening Recommended

Report Highlights Subtle Autism Signs to Look for During Wellness Visits With Doctor

Not-So-Subtle Autism Signs

The mostly verbal red flags that have previously been identified as absolute indicators for evaluation are:

  • No babbling, pointing, or other communication gestures by 12 months of age
  • No single words by age 16 months
  • No two-word spontaneous phrases by 24 months
  • Loss of language or social skills at any age

Neurodevelopmental pediatrician Scott Myers, MD, tells WebMD that roughly a quarter of children with autism experience verbal regression. The average age that this occurs is about 21 months, he says.

"There is certainly cause for concern if a child that was using 20 words a few months ago suddenly doesn't have any language," he says.

Early Treatment Is Critical

The report on the management of autism and related disorders calls for intervention as early as possible, even before a definite diagnosis has been made.

Treatment should include at least 25 hours a week of intensive behavioral therapy with a low student-to-teacher ratio, parental involvement, and sufficient one-on-one time.

The report also calls on pediatricians to learn about the many alternative treatments being embraced by parents, so that they can discuss these options in an informed manner.

These include vitamin and mineral treatments, chelation therapy, and restricted diets, such as the wheat- and dairy-free diet that actress Jenny McCarthy is promoting in a new book about her son's autism.

"Pediatricians need to keep the lines of communication open and take an active role in helping to educate families about evaluating evidence," Myers says.

He tells WebMD that there has not been enough research done to prove or disprove the value of most alternative treatments.

The exceptions, he says, are treatments involving the digestive hormone secretin and the interactive therapy known as facilitated communication.

Myers says both of these interventions have been well studied and neither has been shown to be effective for the treatment of autism.

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