Improving Early Identification and Intervention for Children at Risk for Autism Spectrum Disorder

Pediatrics. 2017 Feb;139(2):e20161061. doi: 10.1542/peds.2016-1061. Epub 2017 Jan 12.


Objectives: To provide an example of a successful, novel statewide effort to increase early identification of young children at risk for autism spectrum disorder (ASD) using a 2-tiered screening process with enhanced quality assessment, interagency policy collaboration and coordination.

Methods: The South Carolina Act Early Team (SCAET) provided focused collaboration among leaders representing state agencies, universities, health care systems, private organizations, and families to improve quality of life for children with ASD. Specific focus was on implementing policy changes and training to result in earlier identification and home-based behavioral intervention for young children at risk for ASD.

Results: Policy changes, training, and modified state agency practices were accomplished. Presumptive eligibility, on the basis of a 2-tiered screening process was implemented by BabyNet (South Carolina's Early Intervention Program) in collaboration with the lead agency for developmental disability services. There was a fivefold increase in children eligible for early intensive behavioral intervention without waiting for a diagnosis of ASD, avoiding long waits for diagnostic evaluations. Only 16 children (2.5%) were later found not to have ASD from a comprehensive evaluation.

Conclusions: Improvements in early identification and intervention are feasible through collaborative policy change. The South Carolina Act Early Team and its key stakeholders committed to improving outcomes for this population used existing tools and methods in new ways to improve early identification of children with ASD and to make available evidence-based intervention services. This example should be replicable in other states with key stakeholders working collaboratively for the benefit of young children with ASD.

MeSH terms

  • Autism Spectrum Disorder / diagnosis*
  • Child, Preschool
  • Early Diagnosis*
  • Early Medical Intervention*
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Mass Screening*
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Public Policy*
  • South Carolina