Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Autism signs noticeable as early as age two

Jun 05 (HealthCentersOnline) - Developmental delays associated with autism and related disorders may be noticeable in toddlers by age two, which may offer a chance for critical early intervention, according to a new study.
Autism and autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are typically diagnosed after age 3 or 4. Early detection of autism and ASD is essential because prompt treatment may have a dramatic effect on reducing its impact and significantly improve a child's functioning and quality of life.
Autism is a disorder of the brain that causes patients to have trouble with learning, socializing and behavior. About 300,000 - or 1 in every 175 - U.S. children have autism, according to recent findings by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Autism is one of five conditions known as pervasive developmental disorders (sometimes collectively referred to as autism spectrum disorders). These conditions all affect a person's ability to interact socially and communicate with others.
ASD begin in childhood and last a lifetime. They result in impaired social skills (e.g., difficulty interacting with peers), language (e.g., lack of speech or unresponsiveness) and behavior (e.g., repetitive habits).
The study was conducted by researchers from the Center for Autism and Related Disorders at the Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore, MD. The researchers examined infancy development and early childhood development in 87 infants starting at age 6, 14 and 24 months respectively using a standardized development test. Participants in the study included babies at high risk for autism (siblings of children with the condition), and infants at low risk (with no family history of the disorder).
Researchers measured childhood development using a standardized test called the Mullen Scales of Early Learning (MSEL) that assesses five areas of development, including gross and fine motor skills, visual perception and receptive and expressive language skills.
Based on data and clinical judgment at age 24 months, toddlers were classified as unaffected, language delayed (LD) or with ASD. Researchers observed statistically significant differences between the ASD and unaffected groups by age 14 months. By 24 months, major differences were noticeable between the ASD group and both the unaffected and LD groups.
At age 14 months, four of the five mean MSEL scores were significantly lower in toddlers with ASD than those in the unaffected group. By age 24 months, the ASD group performed significantly worse than those in the unaffected group in all areas of development, and worse than the LD group in three areas. Nearly half of the toddlers in the ASD group showed developmental worsening between ages 14 and 24 months.
This study along with previous ones also conducted by the Center for Autism and Related Disorders has identified several developmental "red flags" for parents and pediatricians or other child health professionals to watch for in children.

They include:
  • Poor eye contact
  • Reduced responsive smiling
  • Diminished babbling
  • Reduced social responsibility
  • Difficulty with language development, play and initiating or sustaining social interaction

Pediatric health experts urge parents and other caregivers who notice any signs of a developmental delay in their child to seek immediate assessment with a professional medical practitioner.
The study appears in the June issue of the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry.
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