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Quick Screening May Help Spot Autism in Babies
Date:4/28/2011

By Jenifer Goodwin
HealthDay Reporter

THURSDAY, April 28 (HealthDay News) -- A brief checklist that parents can fill out while waiting to see their child's pediatrician may aid in diagnosing autism earlier, new research suggests.

Researchers recruited 137 pediatricians in the San Diego area to give parents of 1-year-olds a 24-question screening test to fill out before seeing the doctor. The test was designed to detect general communication delays, not specifically autism, a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by language and social deficits and repetitive behaviors.

"I wanted to change clinical practice in San Diego, to give pediatricians a simple tool to catch cases of autism and other disorders and get these kids into treatment earlier," said Karen Pierce, an assistant professor in the department of neurosciences at University of California San Diego and assistant director of the UCSD Autism Center of Excellence. Early treatment is known to improve outcomes, she said.

The questionnaire asks about the child's use of eye contact, sounds, words, gestures and other forms of communication. Questions include: Does your child smile or laugh while looking at you? Does your child pretend to play with toys? Do you know when your child is happy? Upset?

Babies who failed the screening were referred for more thorough assessments, including MRIs and a blood test, and were tracked until age 3.

Of nearly 10,500 babies screened, 184 underwent further evaluation. About 75 percent of those children were found to have autism or another language or development delay.

Currently, pediatricians have no way to screen for autism or other development delays until the child is older, Pierce said.

The study, funded in part by the U.S. National Institute of Mental Health, was published online April 28 in the Journal of Pediatrics.

Not only is the test fast and inexpensive, but the children it i
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