New research suggests measurement of two biomarkers can help physicians and diagnosticians identify autism spectrum disorders (ASD) early in the developmental process.
Detection of ASD is often a waiting game as a child is evaluated according to their accomplishments of developmental milestones. Typically, this has meant that most children are diagnosed with ASD around the age of four, although some have been identified as early as two years of age.
Researchers, including a team from Children’s National Health System, identified head circumference and head tilting reflex as two reliable biomarkers in the identification of ASD in children that are between nine and 12 months of age.
Currently, although a number of studies have reported that parents of children with ASD notice developmental problems in children before their first birthday, there has yet to be a screening tool to identify those children.
“While the ‘gold standard’ screening tool is the M-CHAT questionnaire, it must be read and completed by parents and then interpreted by a health care provider,” said lead author Carole A. Samango-Sprouse, Ed.D.
“What physicians are missing is a quick and effective screening measure that can easily be given to all infants regardless of background and identify ASD before 12 months.
“This screening is also helpful in identifying those babies who may not initially appear to be at risk and would otherwise be missed until much later in life.”
This study looked at the use of head circumference and head tilting reflex as two biomarkers that can be used during their well-baby visits by their primary care providers. Both screenings were given to nearly 1,000 patients at the four, six, and nine-month well-baby visits.
At the end of nine months, those infants with a head circumference above or equal to the 75th percentile, a head circumference that was in 10 percent discrepancy with the height of the baby, or those who failed the head tilting reflex test were considered at risk for ASD or a developmental language delay.
These infants were then evaluated by a neurodevelomental specialist and pediatric neurologist to differentiate between these disorders.
Of the 49 infants that displayed abnormal results, without previous diagnosis, 15 were identified at risk for ASD and 34 at risk for developmental language delay.
Of the 15 children who were identified at risk for ASD between nine and 12 months of age, 14 (93 percent) sustained the diagnosis when it was made clinically at the age of three.
“We will continue looking at the efficacy of the head circumference and head tilting reflex as a screening tool for these disorders,” said Andrea Gropman, M.D.
“As with all developmental delays, especially ASD, the sooner we can identify those children who are at risk, the sooner we can intervene and provide appropriate treatment.
“In other words, the sooner we identify these delays, the better the outcome for those affected.”