A multistate trial of an early surveillance program for autism within General Practices in Australia

Published February 2022

The early detection of developmental conditions such as autism is vital to ensure children can access appropriate and timely evidence-based supports and services. This study aimed to develop a protocol for the accurate early detection of developmental differences including autism in Australia, by synergising and building on existing State and Federal programs. It was proposed that general practitioners (GPs), through their opportunistic contacts with young children, such as the 18-month vaccination or visits for other reasons, could engage parents/caregivers in the developmental monitoring of their toddlers, to identify the early signs of developmental differences such as autism.

Secondary outcomes to be investigated included whether the autism pathway would increase parental/caregiver engagement, health literacy, and satisfaction in accordance with the National Guideline for the Assessment and Diagnosis of Autism in Australia (National Guideline) and increase GP awareness and utilisation of developmental and autism surveillance tools and resources.

This study provided initial evidence for the feasibility and acceptability of the digital screening checks for early identification of developmental differences including early signs of autism. Through the autism pathway, a greater number of children were identified who had developmental differences and went on to receive a diagnosis of autism compared to the GPs’ usual practice.