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Autism Tough to Spot Before 6 Months of Age, Study Suggests
Date:10/30/2012

By Maureen Salamon
HealthDay Reporter

TUESDAY, Oct. 30 (HealthDay News) -- The development of 6-month-old babies who are diagnosed with autism in toddlerhood is very similar to that of children without autism, a new study suggests.

"We always thought that if a child had autism, we would be able to tell during infancy . . . but we were wrong," said study author Rebecca Landa, director of the Center for Autism and Related Disorders at Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore. "At 6 months of age, babies who end up with autism by age 3 are scoring similarly on tests to children who didn't have autism."

The study also sheds doubt on the notion that cases of autism that are spotted early are necessarily more severe. The researchers report that youngsters with early-identified autism (spotted at or before 14 months of age) did initially perform less well than a group whose autism was identified later. However, by the time children from both of these groups reached 3 years of age the gap narrowed so that they showed very similar levels of function.

The study is published Oct. 30 in the journal Child Development.

Affecting about one in 88 American children, conditions on the autism spectrum are developmental disorders that cause difficulties in social skills, language and communication. They can range from mild to severe, and are typically identified by the age of 3.

In the new study, researchers analyzed 235 children with and without an older sibling with autism (since genetics influence risk for the disorder), testing them six times between 6 months and 36 months of age.

Among the skills tested were fine motor skills, speaking skills, understanding of spoken language and how often the children shared emotions and initiated communications with others.

Children with autism typically developed noticeable symptoms either around their first birthday or later in toddlerhood but still prior
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