More Information on the Final Recommendation

Autism Spectrum Disorder in Young Children: Screening

February 16, 2016

Recommendations made by the USPSTF are independent of the U.S. government. They should not be construed as an official position of the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality or the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

This page summarizes the USPSTF's recommendation on screening for autism spectrum disorder in young children.

In this video, Dr. David Grossman, vice chair of the USPSTF, discusses the Task Force’s recommendation statement on screening for autism spectrum disorder in young children. To read the recommendation statement and evidence review, click here.


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Does the Task Force’s recommendation affect insurance coverage for autism screening or treatment?

The Task Force’s I Statement will not affect insurance coverage for autism screening. Autism screening for young children is currently covered under the Affordable Care Act and the guidelines set by the Bright Futures Guidelines of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Is the Task Force saying not to screen for autism?

No. An I statement is not a recommendation against screening. The Task Force is calling for more research about the impact of universal screening (screening all children) for autism in primary care. Until this research is available, health care providers should use their clinical judgement when deciding who and when to screen.

Why did the Task Force look at autism screening?

Identifying autism is the first step in helping children and families get the support they need. For this reason, the Task Force examined the science on the benefits and harms of screening all children in primary care.

What did the Task Force find out about autism screening?

Autism awareness and research have increased greatly over the past few decades. So far, research has focused on developing tools to diagnose autism and on treatments for children who are most severely affected. This research is extremely important and helps provide support and care for children and families across the country.

The Task Force believes that more research on the impact of screening and treatment in very young children whose parents or doctor have not noticed any symptoms is an important next step to helping all children.  These types of studies will allow us to ultimately make a recommendation.

Who does this recommendation apply to?

This recommendation applies to children under 3 for whom neither parents, other caregivers, or healthcare providers have raised any concerns for autism or another developmental disorder.

What are the symptoms of autism?

Though all children are different and develop at different rates, there are milestones at various ages that are signs of typical development. Young children with developmental disorders such as autism spectrum disorder may miss some of these milestones or may lose abilities they once had.

Children with autism have difficulties with social communication and demonstrate repetitive behaviors. For example, they may not make eye contact or appear not to understand words or simple instructions. Children with autism may also show a lack of interest in people, become fixated on objects, or get extremely upset at a change in routine. It’s important to note that the signs and symptoms of autism can vary from child to child. If a parent has any concern about their child’s development, they should talk to their doctor.

How is autism diagnosed?

Currently, there is no medical test for autism. Doctors can diagnose a child who has signs of autism by taking a detailed medical history, observing the child’s behavior, and using additional questionnaires. In some cases, a primary care physician may refer a child with signs of autism to a specialist for diagnosis, such as a developmental pediatrician, psychologist, psychiatrist, or neurologist.

What should parents/caregivers do if they are concerned about autism?

If parents/caregivers have any concerns about their child’s development, they should talk to their child’s doctor or health care provider about these concerns right away. Doctors and other health care professionals who care for children should listen to parents’ concerns and use proven tools to assess the need for further testing and services.

For more information, see the USPSTF Consumer Guide on the Final Recommendation on Screening for Autism Spectrum Disorder in Young Children.

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The Task Force has 16 volunteer members who are experts in prevention and evidence-based medicine. They include family physicians, internal medicine physicians, nurses, obstetricians/gynecologists, and pediatricians. They are practicing doctors and nurses, medical directors, deans, professors, and researchers. They are led by a chair and two vice chairs.

For biographies of the current Task Force members, visit: https://www.uspreventiveservicestask

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