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How to Identify Autism Risk at Age One Year: Questionnaire

Identify autism risk at age one year

As the risk of autism spectrum disorders has reached an estimated 1 in every 88 children, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), new parents are naturally anxious about the possibility their child may develop autism. Now a new study shows that administration of a simple questionnaire may help identify autism risk at age one year.

Questionnaire may foretell autism risk

Research has suggested that children as young as one year old may show signs of autism. However, validated screening for autism starts at 16 months of age. In many cases, it is the parents who notice something "isn't quite right" with their young child's behavior, and those concerns should be brought to the attention of the child's pediatrician as soon as possible.

Parents may now have some help with this process. At the University of North Carolina School of Medicine, Lauren Turner-Brown, PhD, headed a study in which the investigators found 31 percent of children identified as being at risk for autism spectrum disorder at age one year when using a simple questionnaire later received a confirmed diagnosis by age 3 years.

The researchers also found that 85 percent of the children at risk for autism spectrum disorder had other developmental disabilities or factors by age three. These findings were based on the results of the First Year Inventory (FYI), a questionnaire containing 63 items that parents complete.

According to autism researcher Grace Baranek, PhD, the senior author of the study, "These results indicate that an overwhelming majority of children who screen positive on the FYI indeed experience some delay in development by age three that may warrant early intervention."

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To arrive at their conclusions, the investigators administered the questionnaire, which was developed by Baranek, Linda Watson, EdD, Elizabeth Crais, PhD, and J. Steven Reznick, PhD, to the parents of 699 children when they were 12 months old. The parents also completed additional screening questionnaires when their children were 3 years old. Children who were identified as being at risk for autism were also evaluated in person.

The importance of this study and the questionnaire, noted Turner-Brown, is that "Identification of children at risk for ASD at 12 months could provide a substantial number of children and their families with access to intervention services months or years before they would otherwise receive a traditional diagnosis."

Early signs of autism
The early signs of autism, according to Autism Speaks, are as follows:

  • The child does not display smiles or other happy expressions by age six months or thereafter
  • There is no back-and-forth exchange of smiles, sounds, or other facial expressions with parents or other people by age nine months or thereafter
  • The child has not engaged in babbling by age one year
  • There is no back-and-forth exchange of gestures such as reaching, waving, or pointing by age one year
  • The child has not spoken any words by age 16 months
  • A loss of babbling, speech, or social skills at any age
  • There are no two-word meaningful phrases by age two years

Parents who are aware of the early signs of autism spectrum disorder can take steps immediately to have their child evaluated to see where he or she is on the developmental path. The sooner the risk of autism can be identified, the earlier parents and professionals can start interventions that can have a significant positive impact on the child's future.

Autism Speaks
University of North Carolina School of Medicine

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