Approaches to enhancing the early detection of autism spectrum disorders: a systematic review of the literature.
BACKGROUND: A reliable diagnosis of autism can be made as early as 24 months, yet in many children diagnoses are made much later. A delay in diagnosis translates into a missed opportunity to provide early intervention services and to improve outcomes. The aim of the current study was to review the literature on early detection approaches in primary care and other community settings in the United States. METHODS: A search was conducted of the peer-reviewed and gray literature to identify studies published from January 1990 through January 2013 testing approaches to enhance the early detection of autism in community settings in the United States. RESULTS: The search identified 40 studies describing 35 approaches, which were grouped into the following categories: awareness (n = 4), routine screening (n = 21), and practice improvement to enhance screening (n = 10). Awareness approaches were associated with positive changes in knowledge of autism-related topics. Routine screening yielded high or increased rates of screening and referrals; however, few studies assessed the effect of screening on age at diagnosis or services enrollment. Practice improvement approaches resulted in increased screening and referral rates and highlighted the importance of adopting a multipronged approach to enhance early detection. CONCLUSIONS: Although studies that tested screening approaches in community settings found positive results, the effectiveness of such efforts on reducing time to diagnosis and services enrollment remains largely untested. The fact that few studies reported outcomes beyond rates of referral indicates the need for enhanced methodological rigor, particularly with respect to length of follow-up and quality of measures used.
Daniels, AM; Halladay, AK; Shih, A; Elder, LM; Dawson, G
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