Medical questionnaire can help detect autism earlier

Filling out a quick questionnaire in your pediatrician's waiting room could help determine if your child has autism.

Researchers say the infant-toddler checklist can help kids who have autism, and other development disabilities, get on track for treatment much earlier than the norm. And that could make a big difference as they grow.

At her son Brandon's one year checkup, Samantha Love filled out the 24-question infant-toddler checklist. As she answered things like "Do you know when your child is happy or upset?" and "Does your child point at objects?" it hit her.

Brandon's low score launched an evaluation for developmental disorders, including autism.
Samantha said Brandon is on the spectrum.

"Half of you is heartbroken because you're thinking okay, something's wrong, and the other half of you is thinking I might get help,” she said.

Brandon did get help at Florida State University's Autism Institute.

Associate Director Doctor Lindee Morgan said the checklist, which was developed there, measures a child's eye gaze, gestures, play and more. Recent research shows more than 10,000 kids have been screened with the checklist at 12 months. 184 who failed it were selected for further study. 75 percent of those kids were later diagnosed with a communication disorder.

"About 20 percent will later have a diagnosis of autism,” Dr. Morgan said.

A.J. Roberts' mom Laura said the checklist led to her son being diagnosed with autism much earlier than the national average of three to four years old.

Dr. Morgan believes earlier treatment could mean better long term socialization.

"More of them will be in general education settings and in jobs and living independently,” she said.

Both Samantha and Laura feel early treatment is making all the difference in their sons' development.

The infant-toddler checklist is available for free, just click on The Big Red Bar.

Right now, it's mainly being used by pediatricians in San Diego, California and Tallahassee, Florida.

Dr. Morgan believes as word about its effectiveness spreads, it could become more common.

She urges parents to fill it out during every check up from nine to 24 months old. She said that is important because signs of developmental disorders might not show up until a child is closer to two years old.

Research Summary:

BACKGROUND: Autism is a disorder diagnosis that is applied to more children than you might think. Autism affects thought, perception, and attention and is much more than a single disorder but rather a defined set of symptoms. Autistic behavior typically occurs across various situations that are consistently inappropriate for their age. According to the American Psychiatric Association, a diagnosis of autistic disorder is made when an individual displays six or more of the twelve symptoms listed across the major areas of social interaction, communication, and behavior. Fortunately filling out a quick questionnaire in your pediatrician's waiting room, could help determine if your child has autism. Researchers say this infant-toddler checklist can provide aid to children who have autism and other developmental disabilities, to get on track for treatment earlier than the norm.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR: The checklist focuses on several key areas like problems in social relatedness and communication, abnormal responses to one or a combination of senses, speech and language absence or delays, and abnormal ways of relating to people, objects, and events. Knowing how to use language appropriately is a common aspect of language that tends to be disturbed in autistic people. This includes knowing how to carry on a conversation, thinking about what the other person in the conversation understands, and tuning into the linguistic signals of other people such as facial expressions and tone of voice. For mother Samantha Love, filling out this questionnaire at her son's one year checkup led her to believe her son may be autistic. "I think once I completed the form, I knew," Love states.

GETTING HELP: Although receiving the news that your child is suffering from an autistic disorder is difficult news for any parent to swallow, Love received hope through finding out this news early on. Love explained, "Half of you is heartbroken because you're thinking okay, something's wrong, and the other half of you is thinking I might get help." Due to her son's advanced diagnosis, he did get help at Florida State University's Autism Institute. Dr. Morgan has been following this study and believes that earlier treatment could mean better long term socialization for children with autism. Dr. Morgan states, "More of them will be in general education settings and in jobs living independently."

WHERE THE CHECKLIST IS USED: Currently the infant-toddler checklist is mainly being used by pediatricians in San Diego, California, and Tallahassee, Florida. Dr. Morgan believes that as the word expands about its effectiveness in recognizing autism, it could become more widespread. She urges parents who are taking advantage of it to continue filling it out from nine to twenty-four months old. This is important, Dr. Morgan states, because signs of developmental disorders might not show up until a child is closer to two years old.

For More Information, Contact:
Lindee Morgan
lindee.morgan@med.fsu.edu
(850) 644-4367


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