St. Louis Public Radio News
7:11 pm
Tue May 5, 2009

Researchers say children with autism should be diagnosed at younger ages

St. Louis, MO –

Washington University researchers say children with autism should be diagnosed several years earlier than they currently are. The researchers analyzed data from 13 U.S. hospitals and universities and found that children usually are diagnosed around six years old.

The study's lead author Paul Shattuck says signs of autism, like trouble playing with others, can appear when kids are as young as two or three. He says doctors may not identify those signs as autism-related because children's communication skills are still developing.

"Pediatricians for many generations have been counseled in their training to reassure parents that many delays kind of naturally resolve and kids catch up. We know now that we have to take these warning signs more seriously."

Shattuck says a lack of health insurance and inconsistent visits to the doctor are other reasons for the later diagnoses.

"Families, even if they do have insurance, may not have routine contact with a primary care pediatrician for their child who is able to kind of develop a relationship."

Researchers also found that girls are diagnosed with autism about six months later than boys.