CDC Seeks Earlier Detection of Autism

By Daniel Yee for The Associated Press

Atlanta – Because half of all children with autism or similar developmental disorders aren’t diagnosed until age 4 to 6, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Monday was launching a campaign to make doctors and parents aware of the need of early diagnosis. Children can be diagnosed as early as 18 months old.

The CDC is working to fill doctors’ offices around the country with posters and checklists that describe developmental milestones for each age.

The agency also created for parents a height chart with similar information.

The health agency places autism in a category called autism spectrum
disorders. People with such disorders may have problems with social,
emotional and communication skills. The disorders can begin in early
childhood and last throughout life.

For example, the CDC’s information for parents says a 2-year-old
should be able to point to an object when named, use two- to four-word
phrases and follow simple instructions. A 3-year-old can imitate adults
and playmates, play make-believe with dolls and use pronouns or plural words.

“It’s important for families and providers – if a child has a developmental concern, early intervention really can have a positive impact,” said Catherine Rice, a behavioral scientist with the federal health agency. “It doesn’t necessarily cure or clean up the issue, but it can help the child to a higher level” of learning and living.

About 24,000 of the 4 million children born each year eventually
will be diagnosed with autism or other developmental disorders. The agency
estimated that up to half a million Americans under age 21 have an autism
spectrum disorder, the CDC said.

The agency says it’s a pressing issue because more children than
ever before fall into the category of autism or autism-related disorders,
primarily because medical officials and the government widened the
definition of autism in the early 1990s.

CDC officials want to make sure parents and doctors know what to
look for. If parents or doctors think there could be a developmental problem in a child, they should contact a developmental pediatrician, a specialist or a
local early intervention agency, the CDC said.

“It’s become more clear in the case of autism that it really is an urgent public health concern – before we used to think of it as a pretty low public health disorder; it’s much more common than we previously thought,” Rice said.

The early detection campaign will help educate doctors about when to
diagnose the condition. Doctors know a lot about autism but many times
it’s not recognized until later, said Joe Guzzardo, spokesman for the National
Alliance for Autism Research.

Tiffany Fleming knew something was wrong with her son, Connor, when
he was just 6 months old. He would let loose bloodcurdling screams with
enough emotion and intensity that he would turn purple and shake.

Connor’s screaming continued. The Duluth, Ga., boy earned the title
of one of the “Top 10” screamers at his doctor’s office. Other strange
behavior developed – he would repeatedly open and close drawers and it seemed like he didn’t know how to play.

At age 2, Connor was diagnosed with a form of autism. After therapy
and a special diet, “he started learning how to be a kid,” Fleming said.
“It was like his brain was able to be rewired,” said Fleming about
her son, now 6. “If he hadn’t been diagnosed and we hadn’t started with early intervention, I can’t imagine what he’d be like today – so much happens

In Duluth, Connor now attends preschool and Fleming said her family
and doctors are happy they “were able to stop a lot of stuff before it

“He’s very social, very cute, and has lots of friends,” she added.

“His biggest trouble is he wants things his way … he has some extra
anxieties but just overall, he’s just an amazing, sweet kid. He’s still a
work in progress, but aren’t we all?”

BRIEF COMMENTARY: Dr. Gary Goldstein, a child neurologist who
directs the Kennedy Krieger Institute in Maryland was quoted in Monday’s TODAY segment on autism, “If indeed, the thimerosal, which is no longer there [in vaccines], was provoking this epidemic of diagnosis of autism, then we ought to see a marked decrease in the number of children we diagnosed with autism.

To date that is not happening,” Dr. Goldstein neglects to mention that it
is still too soon to see the effects of any removal of mercury from vaccines.
The mercury was not recalled by the government, only a request for removal
was made to the manufacturers. The phase out would be over a period of
years. Also there is a 3 year gap between the time of vaccination and the
eventual diagnosis of autism. So that lag must be added to however long
it took to exhaust the stock of mercury vaccines on the shelves. But Dr.
Goldstein is not the only disingenuous player here.

Just about the time when we expect to see a drop off of autism, the
CDC here now launches a drive to get more kids diagnosed with autism in
the name of early intervention. The resulting increase of diagnosis could
potentially mask any drop off in autism due to the removal of mercury from
vaccines. Could the CDC’s move be only a coincidence? Perhaps. -Lenny

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