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IL Research: Autism Diagnosis Possible as Early as Age 2

PHOTO: A study spearheaded in Illinois finds many characteristics of an autism spectrum disorder can be identified in children by age two. Photo credit: M. Kuhlman.
PHOTO: A study spearheaded in Illinois finds many characteristics of an autism spectrum disorder can be identified in children by age two. Photo credit: M. Kuhlman.
March 31, 2014

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. - New research out of Illinois suggests that autism can be identified earlier than previously thought, in children as young as age two years. A study headed by Dr. Laurie Jeans as a University of Illinois graduate student found a number of behavioral and developmental deficits present in children at age two, that were predictive of an autism spectrum diagnosis by age four. According to Jeans, now an assistant professor at St. Ambrose University, children with autism spectrum disorder tend to score much lower than their peers in areas of speech, motor skills, and social interaction at age two.

"The ability to point at the light switches and point at things that you see, and that joint attention piece" is lacking in such children, she said. "If that's not present and we're waiting until three to make that diagnosis, then you're looking back and saying, 'Oh man, what else could we have done?'"

The data suggest children who were later diagnosed with ASD had sleep disturbances, were more prone to ear infections and had struggled with self-regulation. New estimates from the CDC say the number of children with autism in the U.S. has jumped to one in 68, a 30 percent increase from two years ago.

Nationally, the average age for a child to be diagnosed with autism is three or four. But Jeans said that waiting until then means families might be missing out on interventions that could help minimize or prevent some of the symptoms or behaviors associated with autism, putting kids at risk for social and academic problems.

"We know that the brain's plasticity in these early years, the intensive services that we can provide early on can kind of change their trajectory, so they have some better outcomes once they get into school," the doctor said.

The study tracked the development of 100 children with ASD, comparing them to typically-developing children and peers with disabilities. And it's unique because it followed children's development as it was occurring, instead of relying on parents' ability to recall details long afterward. The study is published in the Journal of Early Intervention.

See the study at jei.sagepub.com.



Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - IL