Discovering The Behavioral Signs of Autism Much Sooner

There may be much debate in some circles -- although certainly not here -- as to how, when and why a child develops autism. Nevertheless, there's certainly no denying autism's devastating effect on the health of children and the families who raise them. Wouldn't this condition be so much easier to deal with if there were noticeable indicators that parents and physicians could spot early on? As a matter of fact, there very well could be...

Preliminary findings on a study of 200 infants -- all of whom were younger siblings of autistic children and largely whose health had been monitored for two years -- have led Canadian researchers to develop the Autism Observation Scale for Infants, a model for very accurately predicting autism based on specific behavioral signs in children as young as 12 months, a big improvement on standardized tools like the Checklist for Autism in Toddlers designed for children 18 months and older.

So much so, scientists said, among this high-risk group of siblings, almost all of the children who were diagnosed with autism by age 2 had seven or more of these markers by the time they were a year old. And, even at six months, there were certain behaviors that distinguished siblings later diagnosed with autism from other siblings.

The scale maps the development of infants against 16 specific risk markers for autism, including such behaviors such as not smiling in response to the smiles of others or not responding when one's name is called.

Scientists say, it can start with passive temperament and decreased activity level at 6 months, followed by extreme irritability, a tendency to fixate on objects, reduced social interaction and lack of facial expression as they approached age 1. About that time, these same children also showed difficulties with language and communication: They used gestures sparsely, understood fewer phrases and had lower scores for both expressive and receptive language.

Here's the big kicker: Strictly by the numbers, scientists found families are as much as 10 percent more likely to have a second autistic child, meaning a repeat rate 50 times higher than the general population.

That's why I can't warn you often enough think twice before you submit your child to a needless battery of vaccines laced with thimerosal, a mercury-based preservative. I also urge you to check out the easy-to-use calculator provided by the National Vaccine Information Center that will show you just how much mercury your kids may be getting from their vaccinations.

International Journal of Developmental Neuroscience, Vol. 23, Issues 2-3 , April-May 2005: 143-152

EurekAlert April 28, 2005

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