New study says diagnosis could be made as early as one month of age.
While most children with Autism Spectrum Disorder are diagnosed around age 2 or 3, a new study suggests it may someday be possible to flag these children as young as just a few months old.
The idea that an autistic child could be diagnosed as an infant, and therefore be able to get the earliest treatment possible, is intriguing to experts in the field.
The new study of babies who'd been placed in the neo-natal intensive care unit after birth was originally intended to research infant development.
"This was not meant to be an autism study, but they went back and said: 'Mmm we have some features here that can differentiate the kids with autism compared with kids who don't,'" explains Dr. Max Wiznitzer of Cleveland's UH Rainbow Babies & Children's Hospital.
Some of the children who were later diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder had developmental anomalies as young babies including differences in muscle tone and how they responded to noises and visual patterns.
The differences were subtle, and experts say could not be identified by a parent.
It's too early to generalize these findings to healthy newborns.
"These were babies who were sick enough that they ended up in an intensive care unit and then were followed afterwards to monitor their development," Dr. Wiznitzer says.
Still, these red flags could be used in future infant autism studies.
The hope is to find solid autism markers that doctors can look for even in their tiniest patients.
Even though there's no real cure for autism experts say getting these children into treatment programs as early as possible helps.
Current early signs of autism include not making eye contact, not responding to their name, repetitive behaviors and not socializing or interacting appropriately.