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Autism Spectrum Disorders Health Center

5-Minute Screen for Signs of Autism Works in 1-Year-Olds

In Study, Screen Detected Signs of Autism, Other Developmental Problems 75% of the Time
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WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

April 28, 2011 -- A simple checklist completed by parents can help doctors screen for signs of autism as early as the child’s first birthday, according to new research.

''I am hoping it will become the standard of care," researcher Karen Pierce, PhD, an assistant professor of neuroscience at the University of San Diego School of Medicine, tells WebMD.

She recently tested the screen, asking 137 pediatricians throughout San Diego County to take part. At the 12-month well baby visit, the doctors asked the parents to answer the 24-item checklist. The questions ask about their child's emotions, eye gaze, communication, gestures, and other behaviors.

The screen found suspected autism, autism spectrum disorder, language delays, or other developmental problems about 75% of the time, Pierce says.

"One of every four times, it will be wrong," she says. "The price to pay for that is actually very tiny" compared to the benefit of early intervention.

Currently, 5.7 years is the median age (half older, half younger) at which children receive an autism diagnosis, according to a 2009 study.

About one in 110 children in the U.S. has autism or autism spectrum disorder, a group of developmental disabilities that cause social, behavioral, and communication challenges.

The new study is published online in the Journal of Pediatrics.

Screen for Autism: A Closer Look

The screen used is already published and is available online for free download. It is called the CSBS DP IT checklist (Communication and Symbolic Behavior Scales Developmental Profile Infant-Toddler).

The questionnaire takes about five minutes to complete, Pierce says.

Among the questions:

  • Do you know when your child is happy and when your child is upset?
  • Does your child do things just to get you to laugh?
  • Does your child string sounds together, such as uh oh, mamma, gaga, bye-bye?
  • When you call your child's name, does he/she respond by looking or turning toward you?
  • Does your child wave to greet people?
  • Does your child smile or laugh while looking at you?

"This is not an autism-specific screen," Pierce tells WebMD. "It's a screen to catch autism and other developmental delays."

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