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Autism Report Should Send Message to Pediatricians, Says Expert

Cheryl Clark, for HealthLeaders Media, December 21, 2009

A new CDC report that about 1% of 8-year-olds have symptoms of autism spectrum disorder carries an important message for pediatricians, says Susan Hyman, MD, autism and developmental issues specialist for the American Academy of Pediatrics.

"What this report is telling us is that ASD is not a rare disease. And that developmental surveillance and screening is an incredibly important part of well-child care," says Hyman, division chief of Neurodevelopmental and behavioral pediatrics at Golisano Children's Hospital at the University of Rochester Medical Center.

While screening is already being done in most physician practices, Hyman says it has sometimes not been addressed.

"One of the reasons that physicians in the past have been reticent [to put a name on the disorder or diagnose the child] was the belief that there was nothing you could do.

"But though we may not be able to cure ASD, we can improve symptoms. Just last week, for example, there was an exciting paper published in the journal Pediatrics that looked at a model of early intervention that enhanced language and cognitive outcomes in very young children."

Physicians may also want to keep in mind the prevalence of autism in dealing with their office populations. "There are important research projects designed to, on a day-to-day basis, help doctors [with these patients]. For example, how do you keep children from running down the hall screaming when you say 'hello?'

"When you have people with developmental disabilities. Make them more comfortable in the office visit," Hyman says.

The CDC study relied on reviews of clinical and educational records rather than on parental interviews, which are believed to allow a more accurate capture of ASD incidence.

The ASD incidence report was published Friday in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report Surveillance Summary. The authors defined ASD as autistic disorder or autism, Asperger's disorder, and pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified.

"These results indicate an increased prevalence of identified ASDs among U.S. children aged 8 years and underscore the need to regard ASDs as an urgent public health concern," the MMWR report said.

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