Does your child wave hello to others? Do you know when she's upset? Parents who take five minutes to fill out the answers to questions such as these during their child's first-year checkup could give pediatricians the jump on diagnosing autism, according to new research. In a federally funded study of 10,479 infants, about 50% of those who would eventually end up being diagnosed with autism could be identified using the 24-item questionnaire; it was about 75% accurate in identifying some type of developmental delay, reports the Washington Post.
More than 36,000 kids are diagnosed with the condition annually, most not until age 5. Early diagnosis would allow doctors to begin treatment for the disorder—which causes social, communication, and behavioral problems—at a younger age, when such therapy tends to be more effective. It would also allow scientists to study the disorder in younger children, potentially providing new insights. But critics say the questionnaire is only helpful in areas that have the specialized resources to diagnose and treat the kids the questionnaire flags. "Screening is only effective and ethical if you have someplace to send a parent," said one. "The downside would be stress on the family knowing there might be a concern and not really have an opportunity to get the child into treatment." Click to see the questionnaire.