New Autism Screening Tools for Physicians Coincide With CDC Update

April 29, 2014 05:13 pm News Staff

Last month, the CDC raised eyebrows by stating it had increased its estimate of the number of U.S. children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) to one in 68 -- about 30 percent higher than its previous estimate of one in 88 children.

[Autism word cloud]

Published March 28 in the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report(, "Prevalence of Autism Spectrum Disorder Among Children Aged 8 Years -- Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network, 11 Sites, United States, 2010" was released in tandem with the launch of a campaign created to promote timely and appropriate developmental and behavioral screening.

Developed by HHS and the U.S. Department of Education, the Birth to 5: Watch Me Thrive! campaign( and its resources are intended to help families identify developmental and behavioral milestones, promote screening for ASD, enable health care professionals to detect delays as early as possible, and improve the support available to help children with autism succeed in school, according to a news release(

Story Highlights
  • The CDC recently announced it had boosted its estimate of autism prevalence among U.S. children by about 30 percent.
  • At the same time, HHS launched its Birth to 5: Watch Me Thrive! campaign to promote developmental and behavioral screening.
  • The campaign offers numerous resources for family physicians, parents, educators and other stakeholders.

It's becoming increasingly clear that catching developmental problems early is key to ensuring children get the right services at the right time. The CDC noted in its prevalence report that the median age of ASD diagnosis in 2010 was 53 months. And yet, the report noted, ASD can be diagnosed as early as age 2 years.

That's where family physicians come in.

"Early screening can lead to better access to services and supports, which can enhance children's learning and development, minimize developmental delays, and result in more positive outcomes in school and life," says Michael Yudin, acting assistant secretary for the U.S. Education Department's Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services, in the news release.

Among the many resources available from the Birth to 5 website is guidance that family physicians, in particular, may find helpful.

According to A Primary Care Provider's Guide for Developmental and Behavioral Screening(, family physicians and other primary care health professionals are in a unique position to evaluate their young patients at each well-care visit and offer anticipatory guidance on growth and development.

"This informed and trusting relationship with families is important," the guide notes. "If developmental concerns are caught early, you can help to ensure that children receive the extra support they need and are linked to appropriate services."

Many U.S. Parents Still Link Vaccines to Autism

On April 2, the National Consumers League released a survey( that showed Americans still are not getting the message that vaccines are not linked to autism.

Of 1,756 U.S. adults, 33 percent of parents of children under age 18 years and 29 percent of all adults continue to believe "vaccinations can cause autism," according to a press release. This news comes years after multiple scientific studies have shown no link between vaccines and autism in children.

The survey also found that 50 percent of parents are aware of the study that incorrectly linked autism to childhood vaccinations, but only half of these parents knew that the study had been discredited and retracted.

Specific content areas addressed in the guide include:

  • building an integrated child-serving system,
  • getting paid for developmental and behavioral screening,
  • engaging the family in the screening process, and
  • selecting the right screening tool.

Also available through Birth to 5 is A Compendium of Screening Measures for Young Children(, a collection of research-based screening tools for children younger than age 5.

In addition, the Developmental Screening Passport( is a tool FPs can recommend to parents who wish to monitor their child's developmental progress.

Similar to an immunizations card, the passport can help parents keep track of their child's screening records and share screening information with health care professionals. The passport offers general questions and answers about child development, links to government support resources, and a place to keep track of screening information such as dates, screening tool used, who performed the screening and the results.