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 Module: Early Identification of Autism Spectrum Disorders


Hello and welcome to the National Professional Development Center module on early identification of autism spectrum disorders.  As you may already know, the number of children diagnosed with autism has risen dramatically over the past few decades.  In 2007, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimated the prevalence of autism spectrum disorders (ASD) as 1 out of every 150 children. CDC’s most recent data (Rice, 2009) shows that an average of one in 110 children has an autism spectrum disorder. This finding was informed by data collected in multiple communities throughout the U.S. in 2006 by the CDC’s Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring (ADDM) Network.  The study reported an average age of diagnosis at 4-1/2 years of age, with boys being four to five times more likely than girls to have an ASD. While ASD has been found in all racial, ethnic and socioeconomic groups, there are unanswered questions about potential racial and ethnic disparities (Cuccaro et al., 1996; Mandell et al., 2009).  Further study may reveal the prevalence to be higher. Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is the umbrella term used to describe several different conditions, including Autistic Disorder, Asperger’s Disorder, and Pervasive Development Disorder - Not Otherwise Specified. ASD will be used throughout this module.

In the last decade, we have made a great deal of progress in recognizing autism in young children, but there is still a long way to go. Although signs of autism are usually  present by the second birthday and a third of parents cite first concerns about their child’s development prior to the first birthday (De Giacomo, & Fombonne, 1998), clinical diagnoses are not typically made until the fourth year of life or later (Mandell, Novak, & Zubritsky, 2005).  The goal of this module is to help us do better at this important task of early identification, because the earlier we can recognize the signs, the earlier we can start treatment.  Early identification and treatment are central to positive outcomes for children with autism as they grow and develop ( Rogers, 1996; Smith, Groen, & Wynn, 2000). 

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