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US Doctor Group Urges Autism Testing for All Babies

This is the VOA Special English Health Report.

The American Academy of Pediatrics says all children should be tested for autism by the age of two.

Autism is a general term for a group of brain disorders that limit the development of social and communication skills. Medical professionals call them autism spectrum disorders.

Experts say autism is permanent and cannot be cured. But there are ways to treat it that they say can reduce the severity. The academy says the earlier treatment begins, the better the results.

The medical group released two reports Monday with detailed information to help doctors identify autism. Chris Johnson at the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio was one of the authors. She says doctors should look for signs of autism when they examine babies at eighteen months and twenty-four months.

Doctors traditionally consider the possibility of autism only if a child shows delayed speech or unusually repetitive behaviors. These may be clear signs of it, but they usually do not appear until a child is two or three years old.

Doctor Johnson says the medical profession has learned a lot about earlier signs of autism. She says the identification process can begin in the waiting room at a doctor’s office.

Parents could answer a list of written questions about their baby. Then the doctor could perform tests as simple as observing the baby's ability to follow a moving object with its eyes. Experts say failing to watch a moving object may be a sign of autism.

Doctors and parents can also look for behaviors that are normal in babies under one year of age. For example, does the baby appear to respond to a parent’s voice? Does the baby make eye contact? Does the baby wave or point at things?

Young children usually have a favorite soft object like a stuffed animal or a blanket. But children with autism may like hard objects instead, and want to hold them at all times. They may not turn when a parent says their name or when the parent points at something and says "Look at that."

Doctor Johnson says the goal of the new advice is early intervention instead of the traditional "wait and see" method to identify autism.

The second report from the American Academy of Pediatrics deals with management of autism cases. We will discuss that next week.

And that's the VOA Special English Health Report, written by Caty Weaver. Our reports are online at I’m Steve Ember.