Autism diagnosis taking too long, experts say

April 2, 2016

Medical experts in Newcastle, UK, say that children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are still being diagnosed later than they should be, meaning they are not getting access to specialist services early enough.

Their comments come as they publish a study which found that the age of diagnosis has not decreased in a decade - still averaging 4-and-a-half years (55 months).

In the biggest study undertaken in the UK of children with autism, the team analysed data between 2004 and 2014. Over this period, they found that even those classed as being diagnosed early - under the age of three - were identified at age 30 months, the same as a decade before.

The results are published today in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders.

Early support needed

Lead author, Dr Jeremy Parr, who is a Clinical Senior Lecturer at Newcastle University and Honorary Consultant within Newcastle Hospitals said: "There's a growing body of evidence showing that early intervention can improve social and communication skills in children with .

"Many children receive a diagnosis later than they could have done, this means that they and their parents have to struggle on longer than necessary without suitable support or understanding of their child's difficulties.

"We need to improve awareness of the signs of autism spectrum disorder in very . We need health visitors and GPs to have the training and support to help them identify young children with ASD.

"Some children with autism are very difficult to diagnose as their difficulties are less obvious, and they won't be picked up until they're five or older. But for most children there are early signs of autism that could be picked up in the second or third year of life, if not before - signs such as limited social interaction, speech delay or loss of speech."

Autism database

The study, the largest of its kind involving 2,134 children and families, was made possible thanks to the ASD-UK database which gives accurate data about children with an ASD, as well as facilitating research and providing families with the opportunity to take part in research studies.

Boys, who as expected make up 82.7% of the database, were identified as getting an earlier diagnosis than girls and those with Asperger syndrome were diagnosed later. The team also found that children who were non-verbal or whose language repertoire included only single words or echoing sounds were diagnosed earlier.

This research was made possible because Dr Parr and team work as part of Newcastle Academic Health Partners, a collaboration involving Newcastle Upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust and Newcastle University. This partnership harnesses world-class expertise to ensure patients benefit sooner from new treatments, diagnostics and prevention strategies.

Dr Parr adds: "We need to make more progress with education about the early signs of autism. To reduce the age at diagnosis we need early referrals to child health teams and then those teams need the resources to be able to see children in a timely fashion.

"We know that the waiting times to see an autism diagnosis specialist team can be vary greatly - between a few months and two years."

The research was funded by Autistica, the UK's leading autism research charity which funds and campaigns for research to understand the causes of autism, improve diagnosis, and develop evidence-based interventions.

Jon Spiers, chief executive of Autistica, said: "This research shows that the age of diagnosis for children with autism remains as unacceptably high as it was ten years ago.

"We need research to find ways to speed up diagnosis and to help identify those left isolated for too long, such as girls with autism.

"A diagnosis is a key milestone for children and their families: an opportunity to provide them with understanding and access to high quality services and support."

It is estimated that there are around 700,000 people in the UK living with autism - that's more than 1 in 100.

Carol Povey, Director of the National Autistic Society's Centre for Autism, said: "This important study shows that professionals still aren't picking up the signs of autism early enough.

"An early diagnosis can be life-changing for families. It can help them understand their son or daughter, give them essential information about what might help and unlock professional advice and support.

"Growing up with autism can be difficult but we've seen again and again how understanding and support can make a huge difference."

Explore further: Children with autism need intervention over a long period of time

Related Stories

Children with autism need intervention over a long period of time

March 24, 2016
9 out of 10 preschool children with autism still have major difficulties within the autism field at school age, despite having received early intervention. A majority of the parents stated that the children do not receive ...

Remote eye gaze tracking as a marker for autism

March 31, 2016
A study to be published in the April 2016 issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (JAACAP) reports that eye tracking can differentiate children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) from ...

Autism may be overdiagnosed in the United States

October 27, 2015
(HealthDay)—As many as 9 percent of American children diagnosed with autism may not have the disorder, according to a federal government study published online Oct. 20 in Autism.

ADHD may mask autism in young kids

September 15, 2015
(HealthDay)—Symptoms attributed to attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) may overshadow or mask autism spectrum disorder in very young children, a new study reveals.

U.S. autism rate unchanged at 1 in 68 kids: CDC

March 31, 2016
(HealthDay)—The autism rate among school-aged children in the United States has held steady in recent years, but it's too early to determine whether rates are stabilizing, according to a federal government report released ...

Healthcare providers' responses to parental concerns can delay diagnosis of autism spectrum disorders

April 15, 2015
Children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) can develop symptoms before 2 years of age and usually can be diagnosed by 3 years of age; early identification of ASD is associated with improved long-term developmental outcomes. ...

Recommended for you

Video game improves balance in youth with autism

November 21, 2017
Playing a video game that rewards participants for holding various "ninja" poses could help children and youth with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) improve their balance, according to a recent study in the Journal of Autism ...

Potential new autism drug shows promise in mice

November 14, 2017
Scientists have performed a successful test of a possible new drug in a mouse model of an autism disorder. The candidate drug, called NitroSynapsin, largely corrected electrical, behavioral and brain abnormalities in the ...

Relational factors in music therapy can contribute to positive outcome for children with autism

November 6, 2017
It might not surprise that good relationships create good outcomes, as meaningful relational experiences are crucial to all of us in our everyday life. However, the development of a relationship with a child with autism may ...

In autism, too many brain connections may be at root of condition

November 2, 2017
A defective gene linked to autism influences how neurons connect and communicate with each other in the brain, according to a study from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. Rodents that lack the gene form ...

New autism study a "shocking wake-up call" for society, say academics

October 23, 2017
People who show characteristics of autism are more at risk of attempting suicide, according to a Coventry University study whose results are being presented to a United States federal advisory committee tomorrow.

Signaling pathway may be key to why autism is more common in boys

October 17, 2017
Researchers aiming to understand why autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are more common in boys have discovered differences in a brain signaling pathway involved in reward learning and motivation that make male mice more vulnerable ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

TogetherinParis
not rated yet Apr 03, 2016
Autism should respond to oral administration of healthy adult male facial skin surface lipid, 250mg.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.