Other experts said the study likely reflects an increase in kids under age 3 getting help for autism, not an increase in prevalence.
Researchers relied on data from birth certificates and on children enrolled in early intervention programs for autism. In 1998, Massachusetts established the Early Intervention Specialty Services Program for kids with autism, which offers free intensive programs for young children who screen positive for autism spectrum disorders.
While the screening checklist is helpful in determine who might have autism, it isn't a definitive diagnosis, said Irva Hertz-Picciotto, deputy director of the MIND Institute (Medical Investigation of Neurodevelopmental Disorders) at University of California, Davis.
"The paper is most useful for assessing utilization of services and health planning, and is just plain not comparable to estimates from, say the CDC's ADDM [Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring] Network," Hertz-Picciotto said.
The study was released online May 16 in advance of publication in the June print issue of the journal Pediatrics.
According to background information in the article, the average age of diagnosis for autism remains at 3.5 to 5 years old.
The paper seems to show that kids in Massachusetts at least are beginning to get diagnosed and into treatment sooner -- good news, said Dr. Rebecca Landa, director of the Center for Autism & Related Disorders at Kennedy Krieger Institute.
"This paper highlights the fact that more children are getting autism spectrum disorder services," Landa said. "All those working hard to identify these early signs of autism spectrum disorder and promote the fact that early
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