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Guidance for Pediatricians Treating Children with Autism

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Clinical reports from the American Academy of Pediatrics benefit from expertise and resources of liaisons and internal (AAP) and external reviewers. However, clinical reports from the American Academy of Pediatrics may not reflect the views of the liaisons or the organizations or government agencies that they represent.

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a common neurodevelopmental disorder abstract with reported prevalence in the United States of 1 in 59 children (approximately 1.7%). Core deficits are identified in 2 domains: social communication/interaction and restrictive, repetitive patterns of behavior. Children and youth with ASD have service needs in behavioral, educational, health, leisure, family support, and other areas. Standardized screening for ASD at 18 and 24 months of age with ongoing developmental surveillance continues to be recommended in primary care (although it may be performed in other settings), because ASD is common, can be diagnosed as young as 18 months of age, .and has evidenced-based interventions that may improve function. More accurate and culturally sensitive screening approaches are needed. Primary care providers should be familiar with the diagnostic criteria for ASD, appropriate etiologic evaluation, and co-occurring medical and behavioral conditions (such as disorders of sleep and feeding, gastrointestinal tract symptoms, obesity, seizures, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, anxiety, and wandering) that affect the child’s function and quality of life. There is an increasing evidence base to support behavioral and other interventions to address specific skills and symptoms. Shared decision making calls for collaboration with families in evaluation and choice of interventions. This single clinical report updates the 2007 American Academy of Pediatrics clinical reports on the evaluation and treatment of ASD in one publication with an online table of contents and section view available through the American Academy of Pediatrics Gateway to help the reader identify topic areas within the report.


Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a category of neurodevelopmental disorders characterized by social and communication impairment and restricted or repetitive behaviors.1 ASD affects more than 5 million Americans, with an estimated prevalence of approximately 1.7% in children.2 The care needs of children with ASD are significant, affect parents and siblings as well, and require substantial community resources. Direct and indirect costs of caring for children and adults with ASD in the United States in 2015 were estimated to be $268 billion, more than the cost of stroke and hypertension combined.3 The lifetime cost of education, health, and other service needs for an individual with ASD ranges from $1.4 to $2.4 million dollars, depending on whether he or she has any co-occurring intellectual disabilities.4 To deliver timely and effective medical, behavioral, educational, and social services across the lifespan means that primary care providers must understand the needs of individuals with ASD and their families. ASD is more commonly diagnosed now than in the past, and the significant health, educational, and social needs of individuals with ASD and their families constitute an area of critical need for resources, research, and professional education.

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