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New Early Clue to Autism

Autism Possible in at-Risk 1-Year-Olds That Don't Respond to Their Names

Babies at Risk of Autism continued...

At age 6 months, 82% of the babies in the control group responded to their names on the first or second call. By age 1 year, all of these kids responded to their names on the first or second call.

It was a different story for the at-risk kids. At age 6 months, only 66% of the kids responded to their name on the first or second try. And at age 1 year, only 86% of the at-risk kids responded on the first or second call.

Can this really mean anything? At age 2, developmental problems appeared in three out of four kids who had failed the name test at age 1.

The researchers note that this test can by no means identify all children who will experience developmental problems. And as it cannot rule out such problems, Dawson says it isn't, by itself, a sure sign of trouble.

"There are a lot of reasons why a child might not turn to its name," Dawson says. "The idea is to develop a variety of behavioral indicators, such as failure to imitate, failure to communicate through babbling, failure to make eye contact, and failure to respond to name, that should come online in the last half of the child's first year. If they don't, these are good indicators that a child may have autism."

Behavioral tests are only one possibility. Dawson's team is using an electroencephalograph (EEG) to look at how infants' brains respond to certain stimuli such as speech or social interactions. Other researchers are looking at genetic factors that may predict autism.

Soon, Dawson says, it will be possible to identify very young children at risk of autism. When that happens, she hopes to be ready to treat them.

"We have been developing interventions for 12-month-old infants. And this summer we will initiate a trial of children at 8 months of age," she says. "We are trying to stay ahead of the curve, because down the road these babies are going to be identified, and it is imperative we have something to do for them."

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