Autism Diagnosis Delays May Be Reduced With Specialized Training for Primary Care Doctors: Study
Primary care doctors who receive specialized training can accurately diagnose autism among young children more than 80% of the time, according to the findings of a new study.
The new study, conducted by researchers from the Indiana University School of Medicine, comes amid increasing evidence about the importance of physicians accurately identifing children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD), so that they can begin receiving proper treatment and support as early as possible
In findings published this week in the journal Pediatrics, researchers conducted a study of doctors trained in the Early Autism Evaluation (EAE) Hub System, which is a statewide network that provides specialized training and collaborative support to community primary care doctors. The study involved a review of data on 126 children between 14 to 48 months old, across seven EAE sites.
The EAE training includes a review of a child’s developmental screening results, a diagnostic interview, an assessment of autism criteria, a review of medical history, and a review of developmental history. Doctors also give patients an observational assessment for autism and a physical exam. This helps doctors to make a full assessment of the child and provide the next steps to the family for care.
According to the findings, doctors who received the training were able to accurately diagnose children with ASD 82% of the time. Additionally, there was no difference in diagnostic accuracy between those diagnosed at an EAE Hub site or patients diagnosed by EAE-trained primary care doctors.
Increasing Autism Diagnosis Rates
Autism rates in children have increased in recent years. In 2018, 1-in-44 children were diagnosed with autism. But 2020 data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicate that the rate has since increased to 1-in-36 children.
Emerging research points to a number of potential causes of increasing rates of autism ranging from heavy metal-tainted baby food–laden with arsenic, lead, and mercury–to Tylenol use during pregnancy.
In 2019, researchers from Johns Hopkins University published a study that found an increased risk of ADHD and autism from acetaminophen among children exposed in utero to the active ingredient found in Tylenol and other pain medications. A separate European study published in 2021 echoed those results, warning Tylenol during pregnancy increased a child’s risk of ASD by 19%.
In response to a growing number of studies highlighting the risks associated with exposure to acetaminophen during pregnancy, a number of families are now pursuing Tylenol autism lawsuits, alleging manufacturers have filed to warn about the risk while promoting use of the pain medication as safe for pregnant women.
Tylenol Autism Lawsuit
Autism Diagnosis Difficulties
In some areas of the U.S., children are put on year-long waitlists to receive autism diagnostic evaluations, and some families travel long distances to access specialists who can perform the evaluations. This is problematic because it is well known that the sooner a child is accurately diagnosed, the sooner they can get educational assistance to mitigate many of the effects of autism.
Because of the increased rates of ASD diagnoses, researchers are calling for more autism support, an increased public health response, and more doctors to help patients. The findings of the new study may provide a reliable approach to training more doctors to help diagnose and treat children with ASD, researchers determined.
“Community-based primary care clinicians who receive specialty training can make accurate ASD diagnoses in most cases,” the researchers concluded. “This research has significant implications for the development of future population health solutions that address ASD diagnostic delays.”
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