New Autism Test Is As Easy As Picking Up Your Baby
May 18, 2012

New Autism Test Is As Easy As Picking Up Your Baby

Doctors are now saying there is a simple, new way to test 6 month olds for autism and other growth delays.

A study by the Kennedy Krieger Institute found children with a high risk for autism also had weak head and neck control. A majority of the children who fit both of these descriptions were later diagnosed with autism and other social delays.

Though these studies are preliminary, these findings are the first to suggest that early delays in motor development may be a warning sign for autism.

A typical baby should be able to control their head and neck as early as 4 months. When a baby is lying on their back and is then pulled into a sitting and then standing position, their heads should remain strong and in line, rather than flopping back.

According to WebMD, such delays in development have been noticed in premature babies and children with cerebral palsy. This is the first time researchers are linking these delays to autism.

Dr. Rebecca Landa is the study´s author, and will present her findings at the International Meeting for Autism Research.

In order to conduct these studies, Dr. Landa´s team looked for babies who´s older siblings have autism, placing them at high risk for the disorder.

In one group, nearly 40 babies were given the head-lag test at 6, 14 and 24 months. Then, the same babies were tested for autism between 30 and 36 months.

At the end of the test, the babies were classified into three outcomes:

• 90 percent of infants diagnosed with ASD exhibited head lag as infants;

• 54 percent of children meeting criteria for social/communication delay had exhibited head lag as infants, and;

• 35 percent of children not meeting the criteria for social or communication delay or ASD exhibited head lag at 6 months.

In the second group, the researchers studied 6-month olds at a single point in time, looking for the presence of head lag. Of these babies, the researchers found 75% of high-risk infants had issues of head lag. According to a statement detailing these results, Dr. Landa said, “Our findings show that the evaluation of motor skills should be incorporated with other behavioral assessments to yield insights into the very earliest signs of autism.”

"While previous research shows that motor impairments are linked to social and communication deficits in older children with autism, the field is just starting to examine this in younger children," said Dr. Landa. "Our initial research suggests that motor delays may have an important impact on child development."

To continue their research, Dr. Landa´s team also conducted studies on 14, 24 and 36-month old babies at high and low risk of developing autism. According to this research, motor delay in children with autism will become increasingly noticeable by the child´s third birthday, though not every child with autism will exhibit these motor delays.

"While more research is needed to examine why not all children with ASD experience motor delay, the results of our studies examining motor development add to the body of research demonstrating that early detection and intervention for infants later diagnosed with autism is possible and remains crucial to minimize delays and improve outcomes," said Dr. Landa.