Early Autism Diagnosis

Can Autism Be Accurately Diagnosed by Close to One Year of Age?

Written on 27 September 2010, for:
The International Center For Autism Research and Education

Many scientists are eager to find a common pattern in early behaviors. The purpose of these studies is to point fingers at a diagnosis from earlier on. If you can predict an autism diagnosis based on early behaviors, then you can better provide services to the child from an earlier age. The purpose is not to label sooner, but rather to lead to a helpful direction to parents and caregivers from early on.  Early diagnosis of the Autism Spectrum Disorder allows for early intervention, which can make a major difference in helping children with autism reach their full potential.

Some promising studies are very interesting.  For example, we all know that hand flapping and lack of eye contact, as well as communication delay is a really strong indication for autism.  However, what about some children who show a preference for geometric patterns at an early age? This is actually a study that was done by the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine and published online September 6, 2010.  It is interesting to note that although not all the children with autism showed this preference, 100 percent of the children who spent more than 69 percent of their time fixated on geometric images had an autism spectrum disorder.

In a bold announcement, three years ago, from the experts at the Kennedy Kreiger Institute of Baltimore MD in July of 2007, the announcement stated that “New Study Shows Half of Children With Autism Can Be Accurately Diagnosed at Close to One Year of Age”.  Half of the children with a final diagnosis of ASD made at 30 or 36 months of age had been diagnosed with the disorder at 14 months, and the other half were diagnosed after 14 months. Through repeated observation and the use of standardized tests of development, researchers identified, for the first time, disruptions in social, communication and play development that were indicative of ASD in 14-month children. Multiple signs indicating these developmental disruptions appear simultaneously in children with the disorder.  After completing the study, the results were compared three years later with how many of the participants ended up with an autism diagnosis.

“What’s most exciting about these important advancements in autism diagnosis is that ongoing intervention research leads us to believe it is most effective and least costly when provided to younger children,” said Dr. Gary Goldstein, President and CEO of the Kennedy Krieger Institute. “When a child goes undiagnosed until five or six years old, there is a tremendous loss of potential for intervention that can make a marked difference in that child’s outcome.”

Although parents would love to have the ease of mind with a quick blood test to rule out an autism diagnosis, it is not yet a reality. On the other hand, parents of children who have a sibling already diagnosed with autism, should probably be the only ones eager to participate in these early childhood studies at this time, until more promising science is discovered.