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New Screening Method Could Detect Autism In 9 Month Old InfantsApril 25, 2014
The identification of two new biomarkers could help medical researchers identify autism spectrum disorders (ASD) in children as young as nine months old – one year earlier than the average screening age.
According to lead author Carole A. Samango-Sprouse, an associate clinical professor of pediatrics at George Washington University, head circumference and head tilting reflex are reliable ways to determine whether or not children between the ages of 9 and 12 months could be autistic.
While the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report that ASD can be identified in youngsters who are at least two years old, most children are not diagnosed until the age of four. While multiple research papers claim parents of autistic children have anecdotally noticed developmental problems during the first year of life, the investigators point out there has been no official diagnostic method to identify those children.
“While the ‘gold standard’ screening tool is the M-CHAT questionnaire, it must be read and completed by parents and then interpreted by a health care provider,” said Samango-Sprouse.
“What physicians are missing is a quick and effective screening measure that can easily be given to all infants regardless of background and identify ASD before 12 months. This screening is also helpful in identifying those babies who may not initially appear to be at risk and would otherwise be missed until much later in life,” she added.
The authors looked at the use of head circumference and head tilting reflex as biomarkers that could potentially be used during non-illness-related primary care providers. Nearly 1,000 patients underwent both screenings during their four, six, and nine-month well-baby visits, and evaluated at the end of nine months, they explained.
Infants with head circumferences at or above the 75th percentile, those with a head circumference discrepancy of at least 10 percent in comparison to the baby’s height, or those who did not pass a head tilting reflex test were deemed to be at-risk for ASD or a developmental language delay. A neurodevelopmental specialist and pediatric neurologist were then brought in to evaluate those children and differentiate between the two disorders.
Forty-nine infants displayed abnormal results without previous diagnosis. Of those, 15 were identified as at-risk for autism and 34 were at-risk for developmental language delay. Furthermore, 14 of the 15 children who were at-risk for ASD were clinically diagnosed with the disorder when they turned three years old.
“We will continue looking at the efficacy of the head circumference and head tilting reflex as a screening tool for these disorders,” said Dr. Andrea Gropman, a contributor to the study and division chief of neurogenetics at Children’s National Hospital in Washington, DC.
“As with all developmental delays, especially ASD, the sooner we can identify those children who are at risk, the sooner we can intervene and provide appropriate treatment. In other words, the sooner we identify these delays, the better the outcome for those affected,” she added.
In related news, research published earlier this month in the Journal of Pediatric Nursing found that children suffering from ASD could benefit from interacting with dogs. According to the authors, those pets could provide the youngsters with unconditional love, companionship, stress relief and opportunities to learn responsibility.
Gretchen Carlisle, a research fellow at the University of Missouri College of Veterinary Medicine’s Research Center for Human-Animal Interaction, and her co-authors interviewed 70 parents with autistic children and found that nearly two-thirds of those families had pet dogs. Of those families, 94 percent said that the kids had bonded with their pets, and even 70 percent of non-dog owners said that their children liked dogs.