An Early Autism Test With a Really Big Catch

Autism Awareness If there’s one thing that my friends with kids on the autism spectrum could change (well, besides having to deal with that diagnosis in the first place), it’s that they wish they had detected the issue earlier.
Researchers agree -- early detection is key -- and now, a new study found that pediatricians can detect delays due to autism by using a simple 24-item checklist to screen babies at their 12-month checkups. There’s just one little catch.


The false positive for this screening is quite high -- 25 percent. That is, of 184 babies who were flagged (out of more than 10,000), 46 were totally fine, while the rest had various issues including autism, language delays, and other problems.

Sure, some kids may receive early intervention that might be life-changing. But a whole lot of parents stand to be put through an emotional wringer as they wait for tests to confirm that their kid is okay.
Is that worth it?
I say yes. I’d rather worry, and deal with that worry, than miss out on the chance for early intervention for a serious problem, which would be a much greater strain and not just on my family. The entire health care and educational system suffers when special-needs kids are ping-ponged back and forth between doctors in search of a diagnosis.
It’s not like getting a false positive on a CVS or amnio, which might lead to a heart-rending decision to end a pregnancy. Your kid is here and might need help. What’s a few months of worry compared with the chance to give him the best life possible? If the worry turns out to be for nothing, good for you! You get to move on. And another family gets the amazingly valuable early intervention that will benefit all kids later on -- when that kid arrives in kindergarten ready to be mainstreamed, or is put in a classroom more appropriate to his needs rather than stressing out an already-taxed teacher.
What do you think? Are 12-month autism screenings a good idea, even if they do carry a high false-positive rate?


Image via Mel_Rowling/Flickr

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