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Children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are significantly less likely to have vision screening at well visits for 3- to 5-year-olds than are typically developing children, researchers have found.

The report, methotrexate sodium injection package insert by Kimberly Hoover, MD, of Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia, and colleagues, was published online in Pediatrics.

While 59.9% of children without ASD got vision screening in these visits, only 36.5% of children with ASD got the screening. Both screening rates miss the mark set by American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines.

The AAP recommends “annual instrument-based vision screening, if available, at well visits for children starting at age 12 months to 3 years, and direct visual acuity testing beginning at 4 years of age. However, in children with developmental delays, the AAP recommends instrument-based screening, such as photoscreening, as a useful alternative at any age.”

Racial, age disparities as well

Racial disparities were evident in the data as well. Of the children who had ASD, Black children had the lowest rates of screening (27.6%), while the rate for White children was 39.7%. The rate for other/multiracial children with ASD was 39.8%.

The lowest rates of screening occurred in the youngest children, at the 3-year visit.

The researchers analyzed data from 63,829 well-child visits between January 2016 and December 2019, collected from the large primary care database PEDSnet.

Photoscreening vs. acuity screening

The authors pointed out that children with ASD are less likely to complete a vision test, which can be problematic in a busy primary care office.

“Children with ASD were significantly less likely to have at least one completed vision screening (43.2%) compared with children without ASD (72.1%; P <. 01),” the authors wrote, “with only 6.9% of children with ASD having had two or more vision screenings compared with 22.3% of children without ASD.”

The researchers saw higher vision test completion rates with photoscreening, using a sophisticated camera, compared with acuity screening, which uses a wall chart and requires responses.

Less patient participation is required for photoscreening and it can be done in less than 2 minutes.

If ability to complete the vision tests is a concern, the authors wrote, photoscreening may be a better solution.

Photoscreening takes 90 seconds

“Photoscreening has high sensitivity in detecting ocular conditions in children with ASD and has an average screening time of 90 seconds, and [it has] been validated in both children with ASD and developmental delays,” the authors wrote.

Andrew Adesman, MD, chief of developmental and behavioral pediatrics at Cohen Children’s Medical Center in New Hyde Park, N.Y., said the authors of this study quantify the gap between need and reality for vision tests for those with ASD.

“Other studies have shown that children on the autism spectrum have more than three times greater risk of having eye disease or vision problems,” he said in an interview. “You’ve got a high-risk population in need of assessment and the likelihood of them getting an assessment is much reduced.”

He said in addition to attention problems in taking the test, vision screening may get lost in the plethora of concerns parents want to talk about in well-child visits.

“If you’re the parent of a child with developmental delays, language delays, poor social engagement, there are a multitude of things the visit could be focused on and it may be that vision screening possibly gets compromised or not done,” Dr. Adesman said.

That, he said, may be a focus area for improving the screening numbers.

Neither parents nor providers should forget that vision screening is important, despite the myriad other issues to address, he said. “They don’t have to take a long time.”

When it comes to vision problems and children, “the earlier they’re identified the better,” Dr. Adesman says, particularly to identify the need for eye muscle surgery or corrective lenses, the two major interventions for strabismus or refractive error.

“If those problems are significant and go untreated, there’s a risk of loss of vision in the affected eye,” he said.

Reimbursement concerns for photoscreening

This study strongly supports the use of routine photoscreening to help eliminate the vision screening gap in children with ASD, the authors wrote.

They noted, however, that would require insurance reimbursement for primary care practices to effectively use that screening.

The researchers advised, “Providers treating patients with race, ethnicity, region, or age categories that reduce the adjusted odds of photoscreening can take steps in their practices to address these disparities, particularly in children with ASD.”

The study authors and Dr. Adesman reported no relevant financial relationships.

This article originally appeared on MDedge.com, part of the Medscape Professional Network.

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