New Study Shows Autism-Related Developmental 'Red Flags' Identifiable at Age Two in Children With Autism Spectrum Disorders

Findings Present Window of Opportunity for Detection and Intervention

Before Typical Diagnosis at Age Three or Four

Jun 01, 2006, 01:00 ET from Kennedy Krieger Institute

    BALTIMORE, June 1 /PRNewswire/ -- Early detection of autism is critical
 for early intervention, yet autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are typically
 not diagnosed until after three years of age. However, a study published
 today in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry found differences
 between typically developing children and those with ASD are detectable by
 two years of age. Because there are currently no medical diagnostic tests
 for autism, identifying developmental disruptions in infants and very young
 children with ASD may allow for earlier detection and critical
     The study examined development in 87 infants at 6, 14 and 24 months of
 age using a standardized development test. Based on data and clinical
 judgment at 24 months, participants were classified as: unaffected,
 language delayed (LD) or ASD. Researchers compared development across
 groups at the three target ages and observed statistically significant
 differences between the ASD group and the unaffected group at 14 months. By
 24 months, significant differences were detectable between the ASD group
 and both the unaffected and LD groups.
     "Introducing behavioral interventions even one year earlier can make a
 tremendous difference in the lives of children with autism and their
 families," said Dr. Rebecca Landa, Director of the Center for Autism and
 Related Disorders at the Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore, MD and
 lead author of the study. "If we are able to educate professionals to
 identify red flags in development we can then recognize and diagnose the
 disorder at one- and-a-half or two years of age, instead of three or four,
 allowing for earlier intervention and ultimately better outcomes."
     Participants in the study included infants at high risk for autism
 (siblings of children with autism), and infants at low risk (no family
 history of autism). Researchers measured development using the Mullen
 Scales of Early Learning (MSEL), a standardized test which assesses five
 domains of development, including: gross and fine motor; visual reception;
 and receptive and expressive language. At 14 months, four of the five mean
 MSEL scores were significantly lower in toddlers with ASD than those in the
 unaffected group. By 24 months, the ASD group performed significantly worse
 than the unaffected group in all domains of development, and worse than the
 LD group in three domains. Nearly half of the ASD group showed
 developmental worsening between 14 and 24 months.
     This study and previous research studies conducted by Dr. Landa found
 that developmental red flags for parents and physicians to watch for
 include: poor eye contact; reduced responsive smiling; diminished babbling;
 reduced social responsivity; and difficulty with language development, play
 and initiating or sustaining social interaction.
     "With so many unanswered questions in the autism arena, we need to
 tackle this condition on many different fronts," said Dr. Gary Goldstein,
 President and CEO of the Kennedy Krieger Institute. "For this reason,
 experts at Kennedy Krieger are not only conducting early diagnosis and
 intervention research, but also investigating the genetic and environmental
 causes of autism, as well as other potential treatment options."
     Autism is the fastest growing developmental disorder in the United
 States. This year more children will be diagnosed with autism than AIDS,
 diabetes and cancer combined, yet profound gaps remain in our understanding
 of both the causes and cures of the disorder. Increasing our knowledge
 about developmental disruptions in individuals with ASD is crucial, since
 early detection and intervention can lead to improved outcomes in
 individuals with ASD.
     About the Kennedy Krieger Institute
     Internationally recognized for improving the lives of children and
 adolescents with disorders and injuries of the brain and spinal cord, the
 Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore, MD serves more than 12,000
 individuals each year through inpatient and outpatient clinics, home and
 community services and school-based programs. Kennedy Krieger provides a
 wide range of services for children with developmental concerns mild to
 severe, and is home to a team of investigators who are contributing to the
 understanding of how disorders develop while pioneering new interventions
 and earlier diagnosis. For more information on Kennedy Krieger Institute,

SOURCE Kennedy Krieger Institute