Parents' concerns key for early 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."
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).