A surprisingly simple sniff test shows promise in detecting autism in kids—perhaps even in those who aren't yet toddlers because it doesn't involve responding to questions. Israeli researchers found that autistic kids don't react strongly to strong smells, of either the pleasant or unpleasant variety, reports CNN. In the experiment, they exposed 36 kids to nice scents such as roses and to awful ones such as rotting fish. Half the kids did not have autism, and they reacted they way you'd expect—they immediately inhaled more deeply on the pleasant odors and took shorter sniffs on the nasty ones. The other 18 kids, however, all of whom have autism, did not alter their breathing as rapidly, reports the New York Times.
"The sense of smell is in fact a major component of human social interaction," says lead author Liron Rozenkrantz of the Weizmann Institute of Science, as quoted by HealthDay. "Given that olfaction is probably altered in autism, could it be that this is a part of the social challenge in autism?" Researchers, whose findings were published in the journal Current Biology, didn't know which kids had the diagnosis during the tests, but they were able to correctly identify those with autism 81% of the time. The average age of the kids in the study was 7, and Rozenkrantz says the next step will be to conduct long-term studies on younger children. (Parents with an age gap might have a greater risk for autistic kids.)