USPSTF: More Research Needed to Recommend ASD Screening

Evidence Lacking to Assess Benefits, Harms of Screening Young Children

February 17, 2016 11:34 am News Staff

On Feb. 16, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) released its final recommendation statement( on screening for autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in children ages 18-30 months who don't have signs or symptoms of the condition.

[Physician examining female infant]

And just as the USPSTF noted in its draft recommendation statement in August 2015, it concluded from its final evidence review( that there is insufficient evidence to assess the balance of benefits and harms of screening for ASD in asymptomatic young children -- an I statement.(

The AAFP mirrored the USPSTF's stance in its own recommendation on screening children ages 18-30 months for autism.

The USPSTF noted that this I statement will not affect insurance coverage for autism screening, which is currently covered under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act as a result of the American Academy of Pediatrics' Bright Futures Guidelines.(

"To date, autism research has appropriately focused on treatment for children who have significant symptoms," said USPSTF Vice Chair David Grossman, M.D., M.P.H., in a news release.( "Now, we need more research to help us understand the benefits and harms of screening young children whose parents, caregivers or doctor have not noticed any symptoms."

This is the first time the task force has examined research on the benefits and harms of autism screening in young children.

The USPSTF found adequate evidence that currently available screening tests can detect ASD in these children. Still, evidence regarding the benefits of screening asymptomatic children in this age range was lacking. Similarly, there was inadequate evidence on the efficacy of treating ASD detected through screening. Studies generally were very small, with few randomized trials included.

Until more research is available, the task force suggests that physicians use their clinical judgment to decide whether screening children without overt signs and symptoms is appropriate for their patient panel.

To help educate health care professionals, stakeholders and the general public about its final recommendation statement on autism, the USPSTF published additional materials,( including a video, answers to frequently asked questions and links to autism resources.

When the task force released its draft recommendation statement in August 2015, family physician Robert Baldor, M.D., professor and senior vice chair for the Department of Family Medicine and Community Health at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester, told AAFP News that the public's awareness of the growing number of children diagnosed with ASD requires family physicians to ramp up their focus on screening, particularly because evidence on the benefits of early intervention continues to mount.

Related AAFP News Coverage
New Autism Screening Tools for Physicians Coincide With CDC Update