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Feature Article

Autism spectrum disorder: an update for GPs

AVRIL V. BRERETON, BRUCE TONGE

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Abstract

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) can be associated with comorbid mental health problems such as anxiety, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and depression. GPs have key roles in recognising early signs of ASD and referring for specialist assessment, providing timely support to the person with ASD and their family, and in assisting with co-ordinating therapists and specialist support.

Key Points

  • About one in 100 children in Australia are born with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
  • Signs of communication, social and behavioural disturbance at 12 to 24 months of age can be red flags for ASD.
  • ASD is a lifelong condition that can be associated with the emergence of comorbid mental health problems such as anxiety, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and depression.
  • GPs have a key role in recognising early signs of ASD and referring these children for specialist assessment.
  • GPs also have the important roles of reviewing specialist- prescribed medication and supporting highly stressed families.
  • Deterioration in behaviour might indicate acute illness in a person with ASD. Medical review is critical if there is a sudden change in behaviour as this may be due to a simple medical problem such as an ear infection.

    Picture credit: © Amelie-Benoist/BSIP/Medical Images
    Models used for illustrative purposes only

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