Is it Worth Identifying Children with Autism from 12-18 Months?

Is it Worth Identifying Children with Autism from 12-18 Months?

Whereas most children are diagnosed on the spectrum from the age of 24 months and older, certain tools exist that allow specialists to identify autism in children as young as 12 months old. Many parents would love to know from such a young age instead of fretting about their little ones not reaching their milestones. Is it really worth it however?

The Australian Diagnosis
A previous article outlined a study from across the world, wherein research has presented mankind with tools to detect autism, a prospect that multiple Asian regions have embraced. According to the Australian La Trobe University's research by Dr Josephine Barbaro, children as young as 12 months old can be diagnosed rather accurately on the spectrum. Eleven specific cues are used to identify whether or not a child can be labeled as autistic, including:

  • Failure to make eye contact
  • Failure to smile when smiled at
  • Failure to share toys
  • Repetitive behavior
  • Limited interests
  • Lack of mimicked behavior
  • Problems with looking at faces
  • Problems with learning from those around them
  • Lack of interest in playing social games
  • Failure to point
  • Failure to respond when name is called out

The original version of the Checklist for Autism in Toddlers (CHAT) was a simple screening tool for identification of autistic children at 18 months of age in the United Kingdom. It was created as a means for identifying potential cases of autism spectrum disorders before a full diagnostic assessment. The M-CHAT (the modified version of the screening tool), however, is not designed to detect Asperger syndrome or pervasive developmental disorder-not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS), both of which are mild forms of autism.


Is it Really Worth it?
What one study proves possible though, another debunks. This is the case with the study published in the February 18 version of Paediatric and Perinatal Epidemiology, wherein the sample included 52,026 children born 2003 through 2008 and looked at the diagnosis of children with autism from the age of 18 months. Only 173 were found to be on the spectrum. “I see no purpose in screening every single child,” says Johnny Matson, professor of psychology at Louisiana State University, who was not involved in the study. "As a result of that, you end up with a study like this in which they assess 52,000 kids, but only 173 of them have autism spectrum disorder. That’s a colossal waste of resources.”

The study discovered that the 23-question "Modified Checklist for Autism in Toddlers (M-CHAT)", typically filled out by parents during the average routine visit to a pediatrician's office, also incorrectly flagged about 7 percent of children who do not actually have the disorder, which was about 3,804 children within the study. This is probably a good enough reason not to diagnose so early, but wait until a child has passed the age of two. For those who are at high risk of being on the spectrum, however, such as those with siblings who have already been diagnosed with autism, an earlier diagnosis might prove worthwhile.

When push comes to shove, it is up to the parents of a child to choose whether or not they wish to take their children in for a diagnosis. Personally, I would allow my children to grow a little, knowing full well that some children may be late bloomers. If by the age of three, multiple milestones have yet to be met, a diagnosis would become a necessity and early intervention a must. This does not mean that I would neglect working with my children in the meantime, helping them reach those milestones and figuring out how to best identify their specific intelligences. A label is not always necessary from a young age, though it may prove to be helpful for many families.

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