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Early Signs of Autism Identified in Infants

Findings Could Lead to More Effective Treatment

High-Risk Kids Followed From Birth continued...

At 1 year, these same children also tended to have difficulty with language and communication, and they used fewer gestures.

Zwaigenbaum noted that almost all of the children in the study who were diagnosed with autism by age 24 months had seven or more of these markers by the time they were a year old.

The findings are reported in the latest issue of the International Journal of Developmental Neuroscience.

While the checklist may be useful for recognizing signs of autism in very high-risk children like the ones in the study, its relevance as an observational tool for other children is not yet known.

"Many of these behaviors are pretty common in early development, so they are not necessarily a cause for concern," Zwaigenbaum tells WebMD. "The next step is to take this experience working with high-risk infants out to the general community to see if these observations have meaning."

In the meantime, the findings may immediately lead to an earlier suspicion of autism and possibly earlier intervention in children at high risk.

"The message is that we need to start working with these kids as early as possible instead of telling families that they should wait and see what happens," Zwaigenbaum says.

Autism expert Andy Shih, PhD, tells WebMD that it is increasingly clear that early intervention can make a big difference in the outcome of children with autism. Shih is chief science officer for the National Alliance for Autism Research.

"The evidence suggests that early behavioral interventions can actually translate into better prognosis for these children," he says. "I foresee this research having a tremendous impact on the diagnosis and care of children with autism. The ability to provide even earlier interventions would have a tremendous impact on the quality of life of many children out there and their families."

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