Many U.S. Pediatricians Fail to Screen for Autism

Study found that just 8 percent regularly did so

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FRIDAY, May 12, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- Too few pediatricians screen children for autism and autism spectrum disorders (ASD), and a lack of familiarity with screening tools seems to be a major factor, a U.S. study finds.

The study of 255 Maryland and Delaware pediatricians found that 209 (82 percent) said they regularly screen their patients for general developmental delays, but only 20 (8 percent) of them said they regularly screen for ASD.

Of the pediatricians who said they do not routinely screen for ASD, 62 percent said they didn't do it because they weren't familiar with the screening tools.

"Lack of familiarity with ASD screening tools appears to the single greatest barrier to routine screening," study lead author Susan dosReis, of the Johns Hopkins Children's Center Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry in Baltimore, said in a prepared statement.

Screening is essential, because delays in diagnosis and treatment lead to poorer outcomes in children with developmental disorders.

"This study suggests that current national efforts may not be sufficient to actively promote the use of ASD screening tools in the general pediatric practice," dosReis said. "So it is important to learn what some obstacles might be, and what needs to be done to overcome those barriers."

She and her colleagues noted that previous research suggests that many pediatricians don't feel well-trained in general developmental and behavioral issues.

The study appeared in a May 11 supplement of the April issue of the Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics.

The researchers said their findings cannot be generalized beyond Delaware and Maryland, because there may be variations in screening practices in different regions of the United States.

More information

The U.S. National Institute of Mental Health has more about autism spectrum disorders.

SOURCE: Johns Hopkins Medicine, news release, May 9, 2006

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