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Parents' concerns key for early autism diagnosis

Parents' concerns predictive of autism diagnosis

A new study has found that parents often notice signs of autism in their infant children before a doctor makes an official diagnosis.


A study of over 300 families found that many parents of infants who are at high risk of autism – having an older sibling with the disorder -- reported concerns as early as six months of age, and these concerns were predictive of autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

The parents reported any concerns they had regarding their children’s development between the ages of six and 24 months using a Parent Concern Form designed for the study. The concerns were related to diet, sleep, gross and fine motor skills, sensory behavior, communication and communication regression, repetitive movements, social skills, play, and behavioral problems. At three years of age, a diagnostic assessment for ASD was conducted for all participants.

Parents of high risk children who received an ASD diagnosis had more concerns about their development than parents of low risk children or high risk children who did not have ASD. The total number of concerns predicted a diagnosis of ASD as early as 12 months for high risk children. Concerns related to motor development and sensory behavior predicted an ASD diagnosis as early as six months. However, concerns about repetitive behaviors and social communication did not predict a diagnosis until after 12 months.

"Parents are the experts when it comes to their kids and their observations are really valuable," said study co-author Lonnie Zwaigenbaum, co-director of the Autism Research Centre at the University of Alberta in Canada.

"In some respects, parents are picking up on differences at 6 and 9 months of age that we have a much harder time seeing in the clinic."

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Lori Sacrey, a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Pediatrics, said, “We found that parents whose children ended up being diagnosed at three years of age did report more concerns. Interestingly, they reported sensory and motor concerns starting at the age of six months. And then they increasingly reported more language and social concerns at about 12-15 months of age.”

Sacrey added that the earlier clinicians can start with patients with ASD, the better the prognosis will be.

“If you can identify a child at a heightened risk earlier, before their first birthday, then you can start working with them to address early developmental difficulties, which can ultimately enhance their skill development and improve their outcomes,” she said.

"Parents play a critical role in implementing these interventions, building learning opportunities into everyday caregiving and play activities.”

The study was published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry.

According to the CDC’s Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring (ADDM) Network, about 1 in 68 children has been identified with ASD. The disorder is almost five times more common in boys (1 in 42) than it is in girls (1 in 189).



The psychiatrists and psychologists base their assessment of Autism on behavioural criteria from the DSM-IV manual (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders Fourth Edition Text Revision). No clinical test can be used to diagnose it. “There are no laboratory tests, neurological assessments, or attentional assessments that have been established as diagnostic in the clinical assessment of Autism.” (DSM IV page 88) This, however, has not stopped the medical establishment from prescribing dangerous and allergenic drugs to a non-diagnosed, non existing disease without even attempting to find a cause. Search the Internet and you'll find many anecdotal stories from parents blaming their children's autism on milk and dairy products. Shattock P. Autism: Possible clues to the underlying pathology. A parent's view: in: Wing L (ed) Aspects of Autism. Biological Research. To most Autistic children, gluten and casein are the equivalent of poison. They leak into the gut, undigested, and attach to the opiate receptors of the autistic's brain. Essentially, many autistic children are "drugged" on wheat and milk products, as if they were on a morphine drip. Although parents have been reporting a connection between autism and diet for decades, there is now a growing body of research that shows that certain foods seem to be affecting the developing brains of some children and causing autistic behaviors. This is not necessarily because of allergies, but because many of these children are unable to properly break down certain proteins. ( Reichelt KL, Hole K, Hamberger A, Saelid G, Edminson PD, Braestrup CB, Lingjaerde O, Ledaal P, Orbeck H. Biologically active peptide-containing fractions in schizophrenia and childhood autism.) (Neurosecretion and Brain Peptides. Ed: JB Martin, S. Reichlin and KL Bick. Raven Press, New York 1981. 627-643) (Gillberg C. The role of endogenous opioids in autism and the possible relationships to clinical features. In: Wing L (ed) Aspects of Autism: Biological Research. London, Gaskell, 1988, 31-37.)