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Researchers: Autism Diagnosis Possible as Early as Age 2

PHOTO: Researcher Laurie Jeans says there are a number of behavioral and developmental deficits present in children at age two, that are predictive of an autism spectrum diagnosis by age four. Photo credit: M. Kuhlman.
PHOTO: Researcher Laurie Jeans says there are a number of behavioral and developmental deficits present in children at age two, that are predictive of an autism spectrum diagnosis by age four. Photo credit: M. Kuhlman.
April 29, 2014

BISMARCK, N.D. - New research suggests that autism can be identified earlier than previously thought, in children as young as age two. The study was led by Dr. Laurie Jeans, an assistant professor at St. Ambrose University, who says there are a number of behavioral and developmental deficits present in children at age two, that are predictive of an autism spectrum diagnosis by age four.

She mentioned "the ability to point at the light switches and point at things that you see, and that joint attention piece. 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?'"

Jeans says that at age two, children with autism tend to score much lower than their peers in areas of speech, motor skills, and social interaction. According to the CDC, 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 says waiting until then means families might be missing out on interventions that could help minimize or prevent some of the associated symptoms or behaviors, that can put 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 that they have some better outcomes once they get into school."

The study tracked the development of 100 children with Autism Spectrum Disorder, comparing them to typically-developing children and peers with disabilities. It was published in the Journal of Early Intervention.

Study details are at jei.sagepub.com.

John Michaelson, Public News Service - ND