The recent “coming out” by Scottish singer Susan Boyle, who found she has high-functioning autism, also known as Asperger syndrome, improves awareness and shows that those with autism spectrum disorders can lead a full life — albeit one with unique challenges.

Now, researchers at Karolinska Institutet have announced a new screening tool to facilitate the diagnosis of autism in adults.

Autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) can cause major problems in communicating and interacting with other people, and can lead to compulsive routines and interests.

In adults, distinguishing ASD from other psychiatric conditions can be difficult, as their symptoms often overlap or are similar to those in schizophrenia, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or severe personality disorders.

Screening methods used today for making a correct diagnosis can sometimes be time-consuming and require considerable expertise.

Research specialists at the institute’s Department of Clinical Neuroscience have, under the leadership of Associate Professor Susanne Bejerot, M.D., Ph.D., refined and simplified an existing American test, RAADS-R (Ritvo Autism and Asperger Diagnostic Scale-Revised).

The new test is a questionnaire with 14 self-screening questions and is known as the RAADS-14 Screen.

The scale includes three sub-scales that measure mentalization difficulties, social anxiety and sensory oversensitivity — all common symptoms in autism.

The answers are categorized on the basis of whether the symptoms appeared in childhood or developed later in life.

The newly presented evaluation included 135 adults of normal intelligence with ASD and 508 control subjects with some form of psychiatric disorder but not ASD.

Some 590 healthy control subjects were also included in the study. The results showed that it is possible to clearly differentiate the autism spectrum group from patients with ADHD or schizophrenia, for example.

The median value in the test for ASD sufferers was 32 points (out of a total of 42), compared with 15 for ADHD patients, 11 for those other psychiatric disorders and 3 for healthy control subjects.

By drawing a line at 14 points, 97 percent of the participants with ASD could be identified.

“The problem with most psychiatric screening tools is that they have only been tested against healthy control subjects, which is completely meaningless in this context.

“In this case we have presented a scale which can help differentiate the autism spectrum group from other psychiatric disorders,” said Bejerot.

Take the short autism screening now and get immediate, free results.

Hopefully, the new test will save time and simplify screening in health care settings, but it could also be used in register-based research. Bejerot said the first five questions in the RAADS-14 Screen should be sufficient to provide a clear indication about whether ASD can be suspected.

“Even those who normally have great difficulty in filling out forms can usually handle answering five questions,” she said.

Source: Karolinska Institutet

Autism clipboard photo by shutterstock.