Early Intervention Before Autism Diagnosis in Children Referred to a Regional Autism Clinic

J Dev Behav Pediatr. 2016 Jan;37(1):15-9. doi: 10.1097/DBP.0000000000000241.


Objective: To determine the prevalence of receipt of early intervention and therapeutic services in children suspected of having possible autism spectrum disorder (ASD) before their diagnostic ASD evaluations.

Methods: The electronic medical records of all children ≤5 years of age evaluated at a single regional ASD clinic between September 2012 and June 2014 were reviewed. Information regarding type of services, clinical diagnoses, and demographic information was abstracted for each patient.

Results: Five hundred sixty-one children (mean age = 44 mo [SD, 10 mo]; 80% [N = 450] male; 20% [N = 111] female) completed a diagnostic ASD evaluation. Of these children, 497 (89%) were already receiving early intervention services, and only 64 (11%) were not receiving any services. Receipt of services did not vary based on race, ethnicity, insurance type, or primary language. Children who were already receiving services were more likely to receive an ASD diagnosis (67%, N = 332) than those not receiving services (44% [N = 28]; p ≤ .001).

Conclusion: Despite concerns that long wait lists for diagnostic ASD evaluations may delay initiation of critical early interventions, our data indicate that most children are receiving early intervention services before their diagnostic ASD evaluations, particularly if an ASD diagnosis is confirmed. This may be attributable to increased awareness among primary care providers and families of the importance of early interventions. Further investigation into access to more intensive interventions (such as applied behavioral analysis) once an ASD diagnosis is established is warranted.

MeSH terms

  • Ambulatory Care Facilities / statistics & numerical data
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder / diagnosis*
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder / therapy*
  • Child, Preschool
  • Early Medical Intervention / statistics & numerical data*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Referral and Consultation / statistics & numerical data