Finding Autism Early

Thursday, April 28, 2011 - 2:27pm

New study finds autism can be detected at much earlier age, giving parents a jump on therapy.

Some babies are chatting up a storm by age 1...others haven't really bothered.

They might all fall well within what's considered "normal", but doctors who specialize in autism say they frequently hear complaints of pediatricians who don't take parents' concerns seriously.

That wait-and-see approach seems reasonable when you consider that wide range of "normal", but those who do have a serious communication delay or full-blown autism often aren't diagnosed until at least age 2 or 3.

"That means we've wasted time during which brain development might be positively affected by intervention," says Dr. Max Wiznitzer.

Intervention may come much earlier when children are flagged with a simple check-list at their 12-month doctor's visit.

Dr. Karen Pierce of the University of California, San Diego looked at the effect of surveying parents about their babies' communication and language skills at their 1-year check-up.

"The screen just says something is wrong. It doesn't tell you what is wrong, doesn't tell you what you should do," she explains.

Of more than 10,000 babies, 184 failed the screening and were sent to a specialist.

A quarter turned out to be just fine, but 75 percent either had a significant delay or were later diagnosed with autism.

Those who needed treatment were able to start at around 18 months.

Now the push is to get more doctors to use the check-list at the 1-year mark so kids can stay on track.

The check-list is free and available online.

It takes about 5 minutes to fill out.

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