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Autism Screening May Be Able To Be Done Sooner Than Previously Thought

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A new study is suggesting that pediatric screening for Autism can now happen sooner than was previously suggested and that the results are highly accurate. The study published by Jama Pediatrics indicates that children can be screened for the disorder as early as 14 months. The Center for Disease Control currently suggests children be screened for Autism Spectrum Disorder between the ages of 18 and 24 months.

Early diagnosis is important with Autism Spectrum Disorder because it means earlier treatment. Reality star Jenni Farley recently opened up about her own son Greyson's diagnosis and how early intervention and treatment is making a huge impact on her son.

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"Grey was recently diagnosed with autism. He’s also been in early intervention for over 6 months now and doing amazing," she wrote on Instagram alongside a picture of her son with his applied behavior analysis therapist.

"This opens up really unprecedented opportunity to get them into early treatment -- potentially early intensive treatment -- and then check to see what kind of impact this is having by the time they reach school age," author of the study Karen Pierce, a professor of neuroscience and co-director of the Autism Center of Excellence at the University of California, San Diego, said, reported CNN.

"The brain is very plastic during early development and can be impacted by input from the environment," she said. "The frontal cortex in particular -- the part of the brain essential for the development of social skills -- is making large numbers of connections between brain cells across the first two years of life. The sooner you can address issues of ASD, the better the outcome for the child."

The study states that the typical age of treatment for children with ASD is 4 years old, but the study is showing that children can reliably be diagnosed as early as 14 months, meaning effective treatments can begin much earlier.

"Our findings suggest that an ASD diagnosis becomes stable starting at 14 months, and overall is more stable than other diagnoses, such as language or developmental delay," Pierce stated. "Once a toddler is identified as ASD, there is an extremely low chance that he or she will test within typical levels at age three or four, so it's imperative that we use every effective tool as early as we can to begin treating diagnosed children to the benefit of them and their families over the long-term."

The study looked at just over 1200 toddlers who were screened between 2006 and 2018 between the ages of 12 and 36 months. The study notes that ASD "has its beginnings during prenatal life," so early detection is key. With 1 in 59 children having the disorder, being able to screen earlier and start treatment earlier may make a huge difference in how children respond to that treatment. They found that 84% of the toddlers in the study who were initially diagnosed with ASD during their first visit had no change in diagnosis when they were 3 and 4 years of age, and the remaining 16% exhibited milder delays than their first visit.

CNN reports that Pierce is hoping to further her research by following these children as they age to see how they are progressing.

"We have a new grant out that's under review right now to see if we can call all these kids back from the JAMA Pediatrics paper when they get to school age, and test them all over again to see what their outcomes are, because it's really vital -- that's the whole point of doing all this," Pierce said.

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