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Autism Awareness Efforts Boost Early Diagnoses

Study Shows Increased Enrollment in Early-Intervention Programs for Autistic Children

Expansion of Autism Symptom List continued...

“Because ASD now includes only a few symptoms of classic autism, children who previously were not diagnosed with ASD are now being identified,” says Stephen Camarata, PhD, an autism specialist and professor of hearing and speech sciences at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn.

Camarata says “late talking,” or talking after the age of 2, which affects about 10% of all toddlers, is an example.

“If late talking is now viewed as diagnostic for putting a child on ‘the autism spectrum,’ then all late talkers will be identified as autistic,” Camarata says.

“This is important because, if there is nothing else wrong -- no other symptoms of autism or other disability such as cognitive impairment -- approximately 60%-70% of the late talkers catch up by the time they reach 3 years old,” he tells WebMD.

Tracking Early Autism Diagnoses

For the study, researchers cross-referenced data on births in Massachusetts between 2001 and 2005 with records on children enrolled in the state’s early-intervention programs for autism spectrum disorders before their third birthday.

The study included 385,631 children without documented autism spectrum disorders and 3,013 enrolled in early-intervention programs.

To be referred to an early-intervention program, children had to have failed a screening test of 23 questions called the modified checklist of autism in toddlers. The test asked questions about a child’s ability to interact with others, pretend during play, walk, speak, and hear.

Information on parental characteristics like age, education level, and race, were derived from birth certificates.

Researchers also included information about whether the children were born prematurely or at low birth weights or whether they were single births or multiples.

Autism Incidence: Boys vs. Girls

The incidence of autism spectrum disorders in children less than 3 years of age increased from 56 per 10,000 in children born in 2001 to 93 per 10,000 in children born in 2005.

There was a greater increase in boys than in girls.

Among boys, the early autism diagnoses increased 70% between children born in 2001 and those born in 2005. They went up 39% in girls.

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