Fast Screening  for AutismResearchers have announced the development of a five-minute checklist that may help in the early diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

The tool was developed as part of a study funded by the National Institutes of Health that seeks to change the way pediatricians practice. The study is published in the Journal of Pediatrics.

“Beyond this exciting proof of concept, such a screening program would answer parents’ concerns about their child’s possible ASD symptoms earlier and with more confidence than has ever been done before,” noted Thomas R. Insel, M.D., director of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), part of NIH.

Earlier identification of autism will allow timely treatments that could improve a child’s later development and learning.

Currently, a significant delay often exists between the time parents first report concerns about their child’s behavior and the eventual ASD diagnosis. In some cases children are not definitively diagnosed until well after they’ve started school.

Karen Pierce, Ph.D., of the University of California, San Diego, and colleagues have led the effort to improve early ASD screening by establishing a pilot network of 137 pediatricians across San Diego County.

After an educational seminar, the pediatricians screened all infants at their 1-year, well-baby check-up using the Communication and Symbolic Behavior Scales Developmental Profile Infant-Toddler Checklist, a brief questionnaire that detects ASD, language delay, and developmental delay.

In the questionnaire, parents or caregivers are asked about a child’s use of eye gaze, sounds, words, gestures, objects and other forms of age-appropriate communication. Any child who failed the screen is referred for further testing and was re-evaluated every six months until age 3.

Nearly 10,500 infants were screened with an accurate diagnosis achieved 75 percent of the time.

Following the screen, all toddlers diagnosed with ASD or developmental delay and 89 percent of those with language delay were referred for behavioral therapy.

“In the context of a virtual lack of universal screening at 12 months, this program is one that could be adopted by any pediatric office, at virtually no cost, and can aid in the identification of children with true developmental delays,” said Pierce.

Source: National Institutes of Health