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Autism Spectrum Disorders Health Center

Infant Head Lag May Signal Autism

Motor Development Delay at 6 Months a Red Flag, Study Suggests
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Head Lag: Early Sign of Autism? continued...

"Head lag at 6 months does not mean a child is going to have autism," says researcher Rebecca Landa, PhD, who directs the Center for Autism and Related Disorders at Baltimore's Kennedy Krieger Institute. "But this motor delay appears to be a window into neurodevelopment, particularly when coupled with other developmental delays, and it should be brought to the attention of a pediatrician or other specialist."

Kennedy Krieger has posted videos on YouTube that show normal head/neck control in infants (youtu.be/HzJdR_gvnZ0) and head lag (youtu.be/kk40gQx01uk).

1 in 54 Boys in U.S. Has ASD

In the U.S., around 1 in 88 children -- including 1 in 54 boys -- has autism spectrum disorder.

While most children are not diagnosed until after their third or fourth birthdays, it is now possible to confirm a diagnosis in children as young as 12 months, says autism expert Alycia Halladay, PhD.

Halladay is director of environmental research for the advocacy and research group Autism Speaks.

She calls the new research "intriguing" but cautions that it's preliminary and must be confirmed.

"The first step is to replicate these outcomes in larger studies in multiple sites," she tells WebMD.

Since head lag does not appear to be specific to autism, its diagnostic value remains uncertain, Halladay says.

"We don't want parents to get the message that head lag means their child has autism," she says. "But this could prove to be a red flag to identify children that might benefit from very early interventions for a number of outcomes."

These findings will be presented at a medical conference. They should be considered preliminary as they have not yet undergone the "peer review" process, in which outside experts scrutinize the data prior to publication in a medical journal.

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