Autism spectrum disorders: a pediatric overview and update

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Purpose of review

To provide an updated overview of autism spectrum disorders (ASDs), with particular attention to the pediatrician's role in assessing and managing patients with ASDs.

Recent findings

Clinical perspectives on ASDs continue to evolve. The prevalence of ASDs in the United States continues to rise, and pediatricians are being tasked with the responsibility for universal screening. Further changes in its epidemiology will undoubtedly result from anticipated changes in the diagnostic criteria put forth in the upcoming revision to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (5th edition). Although there have been considerable advances in identifying a genetic cause in many more cases, the cause remains elusive in most cases. Recent studies of concordant twins suggest there is a stronger environmental component than previously believed. Research suggests earlier diagnosis may be feasible in some cases, and a new treatment approach has been shown to be effective in very young children. Although there have not been any large-scale advances in the medical treatment, some isolated successes have been reported and other promising therapies are now being investigated.


Clinical guidelines for ASDs are evolving, with updated diagnostic criteria expected and revised recommendations for evaluation also imminent. This article provides pediatricians with a clinical overview of ASD – with an emphasis on the clinical considerations relating to screening, evaluation, and management.

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