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Pediatricians fail to screen for autism, Hopkins study finds

Few Maryland and Delaware primary care pediatricians screen patients regularly for autism and autism-spectrum disorders (ASD) as part of their overall look at possible developmental delays, according to results of a joint study from Johns Hopkins Children's Center and the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Of the 255 pediatricians who participated in the study, 209 (82 percent) said they regularly screen their patients for general developmental delays, but only 20 of the 255 (8 percent) said they do so for ASD. Of those who do not screen routinely for ASD, almost two-thirds (62 percent) said they failed to do so because they weren't familiar with the screening tools.

"Lack of familiarity with ASD screening tools appears to be the single greatest barrier to routine screening," said Susan dosReis, Ph.D., of the Children's Center Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and lead author of the paper, which appears in a May 11 supplement of the April issue of the Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics.

The findings suggest that screening for ASD remains largely opportunistic rather than systematic, researchers say.

Screening is essential, as delay in diagnosis and treatment generally leads to poorer outcomes in children with developmental disorders.

"This study suggests that current national efforts may not be sufficient to actively promote the use of ASD screening tools in the general pediatric practice," dosReis added. "So it is important to learn what some obstacles might be and what needs to be done to overcome those barriers."

Previous research suggests that another factor might be that many pediatricians do not feel well-trained in general developmental and behavioral issues, researchers say.

Enhancement of residency training, complemented by introduction and training in ASD screening tools, might boost ASD screening in the general pediatric practice, dosReis added. <
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Contact: Katerina Pesheva
epeshev1@jhmi.edu
410-516-4996
Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions
9-May-2006


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