On Monday, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) released its first new guidelines for autism in 12 years, which called for early diagnosis and treatment.
The new guidelines focus on helping clinicians identify children who are at risk of developing autism and provide them care as early as possible.
The report was published in the journal Pediatrics, which urges clinicians to check children for any problems during all “well-baby” visits and refer them for treatment if they find any first sign of issue instead of waiting for a formal autism diagnosis by evaluation.
In the United States, more than five million people live with autism, aka autism spectrum disorder (ASD), which is characterized by “challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech, and nonverbal communication,” according to autismspeaks.org.
Co-author of the report Dr. Susan Levy said, “The benefit of identifying children as early as possible is they can then be referred for treatment. Early treatment, and particularly behavioral interventions, do make a difference.”
The AAP published its last guidelines in 2007 and since then, the number of autism cases increased significantly in the United States, affecting at least 1 in 59 children, up from 1 in 155 in 2007.
Over the years, researchers analyzed and evaluated the potential risk factors and genetic influence that can contribute to autism. They have also developed a better understanding of medical and behavioral conditions associated with autism, along with detailed evidence of interventions that work best for the condition.
“This report is really focused on educating pediatricians and other healthcare providers about all the options and issues, and working to empower them since they’re in the front lines to make the early referrals,” said Dr. Levy.
The new recommendations urge clinicians to guide families about the interventions that have scientific evidence. They also advise against many nutritional interventions that do not have scientific evidence to support their safety and efficacy. The report also urges doctors to screen and treat other conditions that may occur in children with autism. It encourages clinicians to share decision making with families so they can plan interventions when children grow up while having autism.