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Utah Study: Autism Symptoms Missed in Short Pediatric Exams

GabrielsenGranddaughter.jpg
Photo courtesy BYU
Lead author of autism study Terisa Gabrielsen interacts with her granddaughter Adelaide Burton. A child pretending or engaging in make-believe play is one of the items on a Modified Checklist for Autism in Toddlers (M-CHAT).

As the rate of children with autism continues to grow, a new study authored by a BYU professor shows that a typical pediatric exam may not be adequate to detect autism risk. It was published in the journal Pediatrics this week.

For the study, autism experts analyzed 10-minute videos of children aged 15 to 33 months being evaluated in a clinical setting. They found that the brief window of time wasn’t enough to reliably identify those children with autism. The study’s lead author and BYU assistant professor Terisa Gabrielsen says many children with autism display mostly typical behavior.

“For some kids with autism, 10 minutes may be plenty of time to let you know that they have autism and you need to refer them, or that you suspect they may have autism, but for 39 percent of the kids in our study, even our experts did not pick up on the autism symptoms,” Gabrielsen says. She says many children aren't identified until they reach the school system, and a delayed diagnosis can mean missing out on some prime years for intervention. “There’s a lot we don’t know about autism, but one thing we do know for sure is that early intervention can be very effective and can change the outcome of a person’s life.”

Gabrielsen says the study backs up the American Academy of Pediatrics recommendation that doctors should screen all children for autism between 18 and 24 months, regardless of whether the child displays symptoms.

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