Simple questionnaire could spot autism in babies from 12 months

A new study claims a five-minute checklist can help in the diagnosis of autism, allowing for earlier treatment and improved outcomes for sufferers

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A simple series of questions that could help GPs spot signs of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in children as young as 12 months has been outlined in new study published in the Journal of Paediatrics.

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More than 10,000 babies and 137 doctors were involved in the research by the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine. The research found that enquiring about a child’s use of eye contact, sounds, words and gestures could flag up any signs of ASD early on.

Any child failing the test would then be re-evaluated every six months, with formal diagnosis and treatment starting much sooner, greatly improving their later development and learning skills.

“There is extensive evidence that early therapy can have a positive impact on the developing brain,” said lead author of the study, Karen Pierce.

Children are normally only diagnosed with autism after they’ve started school, or when a concerned parent contacts their GP, and very rarely before the age of 3.

With regular health visitor checks in the UK occurring up to the age of 2, the ASD questionnaire could easily and cheaply be included in a standard 12-month check.

“Although a formal diagnosis requires a comprehensive clinical assessment, screening checks at key developmental stages can help professionals identify children who may be showing signs of autism,” Carol Povey, director of the National Autistic Society’s Centre for Autism, said.

To make any screening programme work, a major awareness campaign would have to be tempered with reassurances for parents concerned about the possibility of misdiagnosis.

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