A new study suggests that doctors often ignore parental concerns about autism in children, leading to delayed diagnosis and treatment.
“We know that early identification of autism spectrum disorder is beneficial to children and their families,” lead author Katharine Zuckerman, of Oregon Health and Science University in Portland, said in a news release. “Unfortunately, many families experience long delays between when they first have concerns and when their child gets diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder.”
The analysis, published in the Journal of Pediatrics April 15, compared medical records of children who had later been found to have autism spectrum disorders against those of children with other types of delayed intellectual development.
The results, based on the records of 1,400 children with autism and 2,100 without, showed that doctors and other healthcare practitioners were 14% less likely to take steps such as developmental testing or referral to a specialist when parents expressed concerns about autism.
Parents of the children involved in the study often started having concerns about their children around age 2, discussing those concerns when the children were, on average, 2.3 years old. But the children weren’t diagnosed until almost three years later on average, at age 5.
“The behavior of healthcare providers is likely a very important factor in delayed autism identification,” Zuckerman concluded.
A study examining knowledge about autism among undergraduate healthcare students found last year that while general awareness about autism is growing, there’s still quite a bit of room for improvement in how the medical field approaches autism spectrum disorders.
The Centers for Disease Control estimates that one in every 68 U.S. children has a disorder on the autism spectrum, and early diagnosis has been clearly correlated with better long-term outcomes.
Autism diagnoses have soared in the U.S., and researchers are now looking both for clues as to what causes autism and at how best to treat it, using everything from weighted sensory blankets to video games to robots.
“We hear from many parents of children on the spectrum right after a child is diagnosed with SPD or ADHD or autism, because a weighted blanket is a recommended therapy,” says Laura LeMond, CEO, Mosaic Weighted Blankets. “Most blankets are customized to height and weight, and we have fun patterns like Angry Birds and Spiderman, so we get a lot of calls. I think that the medical community is beginning to wake up and realize that an accurate early diagnosis is demanded to get these kids early intervention to create a successful outcome.”