WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Reps. Chris Smith (R-NJ) and Mike Doyle (D-PA), co-chairs of the House Autism Caucus, today led a bipartisan group of lawmakers in urging the United States Preventative Services Task Force (USPSTF) to reevaluate the recent draft recommendations on autism screenings for young children.

“The USPSTF’s recommendations ignore the work of scientists, medical researchers and advocacy organizations that have invested in raising the quality of life and enhancing the wellbeing of children and adults on the spectrum,” said Smith, author of the Autism Statistics, Surveillance, Research and Epidemiology (ASSURE) Act, (Title I, P.L. 106-310), Combating Autism Reauthorization Act, the Combating Autism Reauthorization Act (P.L. 112-32) and the Autism Collaboration, Accountability, Research, Education, and Support Act Autism Collaboration, Accountability, Research, Education and Support (CARES) Act (P.L. 113-157). Early screenings lead to the early intervention services that remain critical for a child with ASD’s long-term development.”

“Early screenings for Autism Spectrum Disorder are a critical tool at our disposal to help us identify developmental disabilities and implement early interventions,” said Rep. Doyle.  “We should screen all children to ensure they get the help they need to improve health outcomes and quality of life.

In August, the USPSTF issued a draft recommendation that states more research is needed to evaluate the effectiveness of early screenings for autism and that doctors should use their judgement to determine when to conduct a screening. This proposal runs counter to guidelines set by the American Academy of Pediatrics which recommends screening all children for autism between the ages of 18 and 24 months.

In a letter, Smith, Doyle and colleagues spoke to the myriad of benefits of early intervention, including enhanced language and social skills and higher educational outcomes. Excerpts of the letter include:

While we understand that your recommendation urges doctors to use their judgement in determining which children shall be screened, given that an autism screening is cheap, quick and minimally invasive, universal screening should be required.  The limited—if any—down side does not outweigh the tremendous benefits of early screening.

“It is undeniable that a delay in diagnosis leads to a delay in a child receiving the early intervention and treatment services that are critical to a child with autism’s long term development. Effective and widespread screening can be the difference between a child’s ability to develop early language skills, socialize with other children, and eventually matriculate into a regular kindergarten classroom as compared to a lifetime of health, social, behavioral, and quality of life challenges if early developmental signs are ignored.

“If the USPSTF draft recommendation is finalized, families and their physicians could lose a critical screening test that identifies a spectrum of developmental disabilities that if diagnosed and treated early, can dramatically improve a child’s trajectory for the rest of his/her life.”

“We know that families who lack resources and have limited access to expert clinicians experience later diagnoses than most. If this recommendation is finalized, it will further exacerbate this problem for disadvantaged populations,” Smith continued. “I remain hopeful that the Task Force will listen to experts and organizations that have weighed in and will withdraw this ill-conceived recommendation.”

An estimated 1 in 68 children are identified as having an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In Smith’s home state of New Jersey, 1 in 45 children have ASD, the highest rate in the study.

The American Academy of Pediatrics, Autism Speaks, and the Autism Science Foundation are among the advocacy groups and professional associations speaking out against the USTSPF draft recommendation.

Smith’s most recent autism law, the 2014 Autism CARES Act (PL 113-157), authorized $1.3 billion for federally funded research over five years and started a national conversation on how to understand and meet the needs of the aging-out population. Specifically, Smith’s law tasks federal agencies with undertaking a comprehensive review of current federal policies and programs impacting individuals with disabilities who transition from a school based support system to adulthood and make recommendations to improve outcomes.