WKAR Public Radio:
Autism is usually diagnosed in children between the ages of two and three or later, but new research shows that it’s possible to find symptoms in much younger children and to diagnose autism at 18 to 24 months. Brooke Ingersoll is an assistant professor of psychology at Michigan State University. She recently wrote a paper on autism published in the journal Current Directions in Psychological Science. Ingersoll told WKAR’s Gretchen Millich that if children can be diagnosed earlier, it might be possible to prevent them from developing autism.
BROOKE INGERSOLL: Autism is a behaviorally-defined disorder. The way you identify it or diagnose it is based on behaviors. The current diagnostic criteria that we have are based on slightly older children, so it’s really difficult right now to pick up autism in children younger than about three, and in the United States, most children with autism are actually getting picked up a little bit later, closer to four or five. However, there is evidence that symptoms are present in younger children, but until more recently, we didn’t really have an idea of what those symptoms actually looked like in younger kids, because they involved behaviors that weren’t part of the diagnostic criteria. There have been a number of researchers in the United States and internationally who have recently been doing what we call “prospectus studies”, which is where they follow children forward to see how their behavior unfolds over development. This allows us to get an idea of what autism may look like in the very first year of life, because prior studies have really relied on retrospective studies, where once a child already has a diagnosis, people try to go back in time and think about what they looked like when they were 8 months, 10 months, 12 months. Then we’re relying on parent report and parent memory. We’re relying maybe on videos that were taken before the parents knew the child had a problem. That’s not really the quality of data we really need to get a really good picture.
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