Panel finds evidence is lacking to recommend autism screening for all toddlers

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OVERLAND PARK, Kan. -- One in 68 kids in America have autism spectrum disorders. A government task force today said the evidence is lacking on whether all toddlers should be screened for autism, but many doctors and parents believe that screening is imperative.

At age nine, you wouldn't guess that Mark Ziegler didn't speak as a toddler.

"He would throw what was way beyond a two-year-old's temper tantrum. They were much more horrific for him and us," said his mother, Janet Loos.

A simple questionnaire helped his parents and doctor realize it could be autism, and it was. The nation's pediatricians recommend the screening for all children at their 18 and 24-month check-ups.

But the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force said there's not enough evidence to recommend screening when no concerns have been raised by parents. The panel said there are no studies focused on outcomes in those identified with autism through screening alone.

A psychologist at Children's Mercy Hospital is concerned that parents may misinterpret the statement.

"What they're saying isn't that we shouldn't screen. What they're saying is we need more research and I completely agree with that," said Dr. Cy Nadler.

He added that children should be screened.

"I think the wait-and-see approach is something from the past."

Dr. Nadler said screening can identify up to 85 percent of kids who will be diagnosed with autism. He said the signs can be subtle. They include not making eye contact or not seeking attention from parents.

"It's hard to expect that parents will pick up on all of them which is why having routine screening as part of primary care -- why that makes it important," he said.

He said screening leads to early diagnosis and treatment. Mark's parents said that's why he's doing so well now.

"Jumping on it as soon as we possibly could," said his father, Dale Ziegler.

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