ASHA Calls for Continued Universal Screening of Toddlers for Autism Spectrum Disorder

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Association Joins Autism Advocates, Nation’s Pediatricians in Urging the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force to Revise New Draft Statement

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As the number of children in the United States affected by autism has currently risen to one in every 68 children, now is not the time to risk any scaling back of screening among 18- through 24-month-olds

In light of a dramatic and well-documented increase in the prevalence of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) among U.S. children, the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) is urging the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force (USPSTF) to revise its new draft statement indicating insufficient evidence to support universal screening of ASD in the general population of young children.

Specifically, USPSTF states that the current evidence is insufficient to assess the balance of benefits and harms of screening for ASD in children for whom no concerns of ASD have been raised by parents or clinical providers (asymptomatic children).

At the same time, the task force’s review found adequate evidence that currently available screening tests can detect ASD in children ages 18 to 30 months. It also found that the harms of screening for ASD and subsequent interventions are small.

Although the task force’s statement is not a directive to end the practice of universal screening, ASHA and other organizations are nonetheless worried that the wording could be misinterpreted to the detriment of children’s health.

“As the number of children in the United States affected by autism has currently risen to one in every 68 children, now is not the time to risk any scaling back of screening among 18- through 24-month-olds—screening that has been recommended practice since 2007,” said 2015 ASHA President Judith L. Page, PhD, CCC-SLP. “To the contrary, we need to be more vigilant, not less. This is especially true given what we know about the often profound, lifelong impact of ASD on children and their families, the transformative benefits of early intervention, the relative ease of screening in pediatricians’ offices, the effectiveness of current screening tests, and the lack of evidence that any harm comes from such screenings.”

She continued, “Although we agree that more research is needed in this area, the possibility that some may interpret this statement as a call to limit screening—which may result in missed opportunities for early diagnosis of ASD during a critical developmental window for children who can benefit from early intervention—is a significant concern.”

Advocacy groups Autism Speaks and the Autism Science Foundation have also asked USPSTF to revise its draft statement, as has the American Academy of Pediatrics.

ASHA is also recommending changes to the accompanying rationale and FAQs. The task force is accepting public comments through August 31.

About the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association
ASHA is the national professional, scientific, and credentialing association for 182,000 audiologists; speech-language pathologists; speech, language, and hearing scientists; audiology and speech-language pathology support personnel; and students. Audiologists specialize in preventing and assessing hearing and balance disorders as well as providing audiologic treatment, including hearing aids. Speech-language pathologists identify, assess, and treat speech and language problems, including swallowing disorders.

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