(CBS News) Although the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends pediatricians screen children for autism at 18 months, new government research shows more work has to be done. More than half of school-aged kids with autism in the U.S. were 5-years-old or older by the time they were diagnosed.
The new study is part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) 2011 Survey of Pathways to Diagnosis and Services. It was nationally-representative look at children between the ages of 6 and 17 with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and special health care needs. The report also found less than 20 percent of children with autism were diagnosed before age 2. Results appear in the National Center for Health Statistics' Data Brief.
About one out of 88 children in the U.S. has an autism spectrum disorder according to the latest CDC estimates, CBS News reported. It could potentially affect more than one million children and teens in America. Boys are five times more likely to be diagnosed with autism than girls - about one in 54 boys have autism, while one in 252 girls do.
The study also showed that most children who are diagnosed with ASD under the age of five are normally identified by psychologists and generalists (including pediatricians, family physicians, and nurse practitioners), while psychologists and psychiatrists did the bulk of the diagnosing at later ages. More than half of school-aged children with special health care needs (CSHCN) are on some sort of medication.
More work is being done to help diagnose children earlier because experts believe it can lead to better outcomes for the patient. A new test that might show promise in diagnosing autism in toddlers checks how a child controls his or her head posture, HealthPop reported. A study showed that if four-month-old child has "head lag," which is when they cannot hold their head up when being pulled to sit, they were more likely to be diagnosed with autism.
As for schooling, 90 percent of CSHCN with autism need one or more services to help with their development. About three-fifths of the kids in the study are enrolled in some sort of social skills training, and three-fifths are in speech language therapy.
"Our data indicate that many children with autism - the majority - are getting some sort of services such as speech or other individual-based interventions," study researcher Dr. Lisa J. Colpe, chief of the office of clinical and population epidemiology research at the National Institute of Mental Health in Bethesda, Md. told WebMD. "That is great news."
Still, work needs to be done. Twelve percent of children didn't receive any of the suggested services, and less than half received the kind of behavioral therapies that are believed to be most helpful.
The CDC has more information on red flags and early signs of autism.