Earlier diagnostic for attacking autism

Earlier diagnosis for attacking autismBACKGROUND: Autism is a complex neurobiological disorder that typically lasts throughout a person's lifetime. It is part of a group of disorders known as autism spectrum disorders (ASD).

Today, 1 in 150 individuals is diagnosed with an ASD, making them more common than pediatric cancer, diabetes, and AIDS combined. Autism was first identified in 1943 by Dr. Leo Kanner of Johns Hopkins Hospital. At about the same time, a German scientist, Dr. Hans Asperger, described a milder form of the disorder that is now known as Asperger's Syndrome.

SYMPTOMS OF AUTISM: The earliest signs of autism are usually seen by parents and typically include unusual behaviors and failure to reach appropriate developmental milestones. Some parents describe a child that seemed different from birth, while others describe a child who was developing normally and then regressed. Lack of eye contact, repetitive behaviors and delayed or unusual speech patterns are just a few symptoms that are common in most ASD cases.

TRADITIONAL SCREENING: There is no medical test for autism. The Centers For Disease Control has set guidelines that suggest all children be screened for autism during their 18-month, 24-month and 30-month well checks.

During the screening, doctors look at behavioral symptoms, ask parents specific developmental questions, perform speech and language tests as well as utilize various other screening techniques. This screening cannot be used alone to make a diagnosis, but a positive screening should be followed up by further assessment.

EYE TRACKING: Researchers at Yale University are studying detailed eye tracking technology as a means to diagnose autism at an earlier age. Ami Klin, Ph.D., and his research partner Warren Jones, believe through their research they will be able to put together a better picture of how a child with autism perceives the world. Their research began with toddlers whom they showed video clips from the movie Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolf?

The children watched the screen while a hidden camera captured their eye movements. These eye movements can then be analyzed by technicians to determine exactly what part of the screen the child is fixating on at any given time. Data showed cognitively-delayed and normally-developing toddlers were more likely to fixate on a character's eyes, while children with autism were more likely to fixate on a character's mouth. The team's newest eye tracking research is being done with infants as they watch a video of their mother's face.

DIAGNOSIS AT BIRTH? Taking early diagnosis a step further, Harvey Kliman, M.D., Ph.D., is studying microscopic differences in the placentas of children with autism. He found that the placenta of a child without autism looks like the branch system of a tree under a microscope with smaller branches stemming out from larger ones. The placentas of children with autism look different. Instead of having a pattern that branches out, some of the branches.

Originally Posted: Top Diagnosis