Parents Input to Help Find Autism Risks

Autism risk may be determined by one year of age using parent reports about development

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Early detection of autism spectrum disorders (ASD) can help children succeed. But how early can risk be detected?

A recent study found that a list of questions asked of parents when their child is one year old is best.

This list of questions is called the First Year Inventory, and was a good predictor of which children were at risk for ASD or other developmental delays.

"Talk to your pediatrician about any developmental concerns."

The study, led by Lauren Turner-Brown, PhD , of the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, followed up with 699 children with autism when they were three years old.

When the children were 12 months old, their parents filled out the First Year Inventory, which asks parents to rate behaviors about their child’s social interactions, communication skills, sensory processing and reactivity and repetitive behaviors.

Later, diagnostic interviews with the children determined who developed ASD and who did not. The researchers found nine children, of the 699, who met criteria for ASD.

The study authors looked at the scores on the First Year Inventory for children with developmental problems at age 3 and those without. They looked for a score that would best predict the children at-risk for developmental problems.

Using these best scores, the authors found that 44 percent of the children who later were diagnosed with ASD were flagged as at-risk by the First Year Inventory.

There were 24 false positives, children deemed at risk who did not develop ASD, but 65 percent of those were diagnosed with other developmental delays.

The authors concluded, “These results suggest that the First Year Inventory is a promising tool for identifying 12-month-old infants who are at risk for an eventual diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder.”

At present, the First Year Inventory is not commonly used in clinical practice.

dailyRx asked Kim Renner, Board Certified Behavior Analyst and Program Manager of the Autism Early Learning Program at ProMedica Toledo Children’s Hospital about the results of this study.

When asked if these types of screening tests could lead to false worry by parents, she noted that 85 percent of the children in this study who met the criterion score had some type of developmental problem, which means 15 percent of parents worried unnecessarily.

She said, “I would expect that, of families who are referred to specialists today with a suspicion of autism or a developmental disability, more than 15 percent do not receive such a diagnosis and have worried unnecessarily. “

She went on to say that, “When a child is considered at-risk during infancy, treatment can begin immediately to reduce or remediate the early symptoms of autism or developmental disabilities. “

“Psychologists, educators, and medical professionals can make recommendations for treatment and follow along for appropriate development. If indicated, Early Intensive Behavioral Intervention (EIBI) can begin to teach appropriate and adaptive skills before challenging or interfering behaviors develop.”

The study was published July 10 in the journal Autism. The study was funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Autism Speaks, and The Ireland Family Foundation. No conflicts of interest were disclosed.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
July 19, 2012
Last Updated:
January 25, 2013