Multi-year divide exists between possible and actual autism diagnoses

Brian Field

A key success factor for helping those with autism better cope and interact in the world is early identification, analysis of that child’s deficits and delivery of therapeutic responses as aggressively as possible in the child’s formative years. It appears, however, that there is a gap of several years between when children can undergo diagnosis, and when most are actually being formally identified.

An article published in the current issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry suggests that the average diagnosis is occurring at six years of age, a full three years after diagnosis is possible.

Paul Shattuck, Ph.D., assistant professor at the George Warren Brown School of Social Work at Washington University in St. Louis, used data from 13 sites around the country funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to collect information from the health and education records of eight year olds with a wide variety of developmental problems in 2002.

The study found that females typically were diagnosed later than males, and that female diagnosis was linked to more obvious or severe cognitive deficiencies. He also found that while there was little disparity in documented cases across race, Hispanic and Black children were less likely to have formal diagnoses, despite meeting the diagnostic criteria for autism.

"With the increased awareness about ASDs, I hope that we will start to see this gap shrink," Shattuck says, adding that parents need to trust their instincts. "If there is something about your child's development that concerns you, or if your child is exhibiting some symptoms of autism such as a failure to make eye contact, not speaking one word by 16 months, or not responding to their name, talk to your child's pediatrician," he says. "If the doctor ignores your concerns, seek a second opinion."

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