Over Diagnosis of Autism Possibly Due to Difficulty Distinguishing From Other Types of Language/Developmental Delays

Autism spectrum disorder diagnoses sometimes change due to misdiagnosis, maturation, or treatment.

A new study in the publication Autism titled, “Diagnosis Lost: Differences Between Children Who Had and Who Currently Have an Autism Spectrum Disorder Diagnosis,” uses a probability-based national survey—the Survey of Pathways to Diagnosis and Services—to compare currently diagnosed and previously diagnosed children aged 6–17 years based on retrospective parental reports of early concerns about their children’s development, responses to those concerns by doctors and other healthcare providers, the type of provider who made the first autism spectrum disorder diagnosis, and the autism spectrum disorder subtype diagnoses received (if any).

Propensity score matching was used to control for differences between the groups on children’s current level of functioning and other current characteristics that may have been related to diagnosis loss.

Key Findings:

  • Approximately 13% of the children ever diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder were estimated to have lost the diagnosis, and parents of 74% of them believed it was changed due to new information.
  • Previously diagnosed children were less likely to have parents with early concerns about verbal skills, nonverbal communication, learning, and unusual gestures or movements. They were also less likely to have been referred to and diagnosed by a specialist.
  • Previously diagnosed children were less likely to have ever received a diagnosis of Asperger’s disorder or autistic disorder.
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