"Far too often, if you wait until there's clinical concern, you've lost of a lot of critical intervention time," said Diana Robins, associate professor at Drexel's Autism Institute.
Robins was the lead author of a paper calling for universal autism screening. The paper was published in late January after researchers learned what the national committee was going to recommend.
"It is important to develop a body of research showing long-term health-related outcomes from screening, but waiting until that literature is complete does a disservice to the thousands of toddlers in need of screening and early detection with each passing year," wrote Robins, along with 14 other autism researchers from across the U.S.
There is a risk that universal early screening could increase the number of false-positives, i.e. diagnosing children with autism when they don't actually have it. Intensive interventions like Applied Behavioral Analysis are quite expensive and there might not be enough experts in the U.S. to respond to an increase in autism diagnoses.
However, the task force stated in its report that it found "little evidence on the harms of screening and treatment."
"The truth is even the children who might be considered a false-positive because they don't have autism usually have other development delays or concerns" and could thus benefit from early screenings, Robins said.