New test for autism in children

April 28, 2011 2:56:58 PM PDT
Researchers have identified a way that might be used to identify autism in children as early as one-years old.

This new information, which offers the possibility of earlier diagnosis, comes from researchers at the University of California at San Diego.

The researchers came up with a simple checklist to give children at the age of twelve months. That is much earlier than what is currently used now, and earlier detection can possibly lead to a more effective way to begin treatment.

Dr. Karen Pierce of University of California at San Diego feels the new tests for autism is very necessary because of the younger detection age.

"I've been in the field of autism for twenty years and I can't tell you the times parents have come to me and said I knew something was wrong," Pierce said.

Dr. Pierce recalled one of her patient's parents that went through that.

"Marie was twelve months or eighteen months and I went to my pediatrician and he said wait and see," Pierce said.

Dr. Pierce and her colleagues hope that "wait and see" will no longer be necessary.

The researchers expect that the five minute checklist will give pediatricians a way to diagnose children earlier than is the current practice.

In fact, they have already tested it on ten thousand infants. The way it works is parent's answer twenty-four questions on a list, such as how their child interacts, how they sound and also their gestures and moods.

The second part of the test is for the child. A pediatrician evaluates the child, and based on both the checklist and the evaluation, they see if the child needs further testing. Afterwards, the child is then tracked every six months.

The checklist and evaluation can not only red flag children with autism, but also red flag other problems as well.

Dr. Kurt Klienpeter of Wakeforest Baptist Medical Center agrees that the test is helpful to diagnose other problems.

"Children who have any one of three diagnoses such as general developmental delays, those that are at risk for speech/language disorders only, or those that might be at risk for autism," Klienpeter said.

Some early warning signs to detecting autism in children at age one consists of how their repetitive behavior during play, how they draw adults into their own objects of interest, and how they show shared enjoyment. A child's sensitivity to the environment can be another sign of autism.

There are actually more early warning signs according to Dr. Pierce. Those signs will be posted on the researchers' websites.

However, one strong warning to this study is that there are a lot of false positives, which can ultimately cause parents a lot of unnecessary stress.

One out of four babies that fail the screening actually turns out to be perfectly typical and are doing great.

False positives are an important thing to know about any screening tools though.

The researchers of the new autism test stand by the importance of it though. They stated that out of the ten thousand children they evaluated, thirty-one were found to be autistic and several dozen others had either language or development delays - all of which can be helped with earlier intervention.

The researchers feel that this is the importance of the tool, but it remains to be seen whether pediatricians will start using the test on one year olds

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