Earlier Autism Diagnosis

Researchers from the Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore, Maryland recently conducted a study which found out that autism can be diagnosed at close to one year of age, which is the earliest the disorder has ever been diagnosed (Archives of General Psychiatry, July 2007).

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 olds. Multiple signs indicating these developmental disruptions appear simultaneously in children with the disorder.

Rebecca Landa, PhD, CCC-SLP, lead study author and director of the Kennedy Krieger Center for Autism and Related Disorders, and her colleagues identified the following signs of developmental disruptions for which parents and pediatricians should be watching:

  • Abnormalities in initiating communication with others: Rather than requesting help to open a jar of bubbles through gestures and vocalizations paired with eye contact, a child with ASD may struggle to open it themselves or fuss, often without looking at the nearby person.
  • Compromised ability to initiate and respond to opportunities to share experiences with others: Children with ASD infrequently monitor other people’s focus of attention. Therefore, a child with ASD will miss cues that are important for shared engagement with others, and miss opportunities for learning as well as for initiating communication about a shared topic of interest.
  • Irregularities when playing with toys: Instead of using a toy as it is meant to be used, such as picking up a toy fork and pretending to eat with it, children with ASD may repeatedly pick the fork up and drop it down, tap it on the table, or perform another unusual act with the toy.
  • Significantly reduced variety of sounds, words and gestures used to communicate: Compared to typically developing children, children with ASD have a much smaller inventory of sounds, words and gestures that they use to communicate with others.
  • “For a toddler with autism, only a limited set of circumstances — like when they see a favorite toy, or when they are tossed in the air — will lead to fleeting social engagement,” said Dr. Landa. “The fact that we can identify this at such a young age is extremely exciting, because it gives us an opportunity to diagnose children with ASD very early on when intervention may have a great impact on development.”

    The current study reveals that autism often involves a progression, with the disorder claiming or presenting itself between 14 and 24 months of age. Some children with only mild delays at 14 months of age could go on to be diagnosed with ASD. Dr. Landa and her colleagues observed distinct differences in the developmental paths, or trajectories, of children with early versus later diagnosis of ASD.

    Head over to Advance to read the article in full.

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