In infancy, kids with autism or ADHD had more frequent doctor or hospital visits

The study includes the health records of about 30,000 patients collected over a span of 10 years, mostly within the Duke University Health System.

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During infancy, children who went on to receive a diagnosis for autism or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) were more likely to have frequently visited the doctor or hospital, new research finds.

Appearing in the journal Scientific Reports, the study highlights new evidence on how assessing the electronic medical records of an infant’s first year could yield more insight into future diagnoses.

The study includes the health records of about 30,000 patients collected over a span of 10 years, mostly within the Duke University Health System.

“This study provides evidence that children who develop autism and ADHD are on a different path from the beginning,” according to the study’s lead author. “We have known that children with these diagnoses have more interactions with the health care system after they’ve been diagnosed, but this indicates that distinctive patterns of utilization begin early in these children’s lives. This could provide an opportunity to intervene sooner.”

It is not uncommon for children with either condition, autism, or ADHD, to receive a diagnosis much later than they should have, delaying early treatment intervention, which would be beneficial.

“Owing to the brain’s inherent malleability—its neuroplasticity—early detection and intervention are critical to improving outcomes in ASD, especially in terms of language and social skills,” said Geraldine Dawson, co-author of the study, in a press release.

Analyzing the first-year records of hospital admissions of the patients, infants whose birth resulted in a longer duration of stay in the hospital, were more likely to be diagnosed with either autism or ADHD, researchers say.

An increase in medical procedures was also associated with higher diagnoses of both autism and ADHD later in childhood, the findings indicated.

All in all, the research team concluded the following, “We are hopeful that these early utilization patterns can eventually be combined with other sources of data to build automated surveillance tools to help parents and pediatricians identify which kids will benefit most from early assessment and treatment.”

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