Autism Clues Before Age 3

February 6, 2012 9:22:48 AM PST
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that all children be screened for autism twice before age 2. However, only between 5 and 7 percent of pediatricians perform a formal screening. The average age of diagnosis for a child with autism is about 5 1/2. Experts say that's way too late.

Dalton Foreaker looks like any other 3 year old -- but when he was an infant -- his mom noticed the signs.

"I remember him not responding to his name when I would call him," said Casey Foreaker.

Dalton was diagnosed with autism at just 16 months. Siblings have a greater risk, so Casey enrolled Dalton's little brother -- Jayden -- in a research study to diagnose autism earlier.

Researchers monitored Jayden's response to recorded images.

"There's some indication that in older children and adults with autism, they don't pay the same degree of attention to people as they do to the objects and things in the background," said Mark Strauss, PhD, Psychologist, The University of Pittsburgh.

Scientists also look to see which side of an adult's face babies focus on. Human brains are wired to look to the right. Studies have shown adults with autism don't favor a side.

Researcher Jill Gilkerson Is using children's voices to help identify kids who may be at risk for autism. Parents place a recording device inside the front pocket of the child's clothing.

"It records everything the child says and everything that's spoken around them," said Gilkerson.

When the recorder is sent back to the lab, this super machine uses speech recognition technology to look for patterns-- such as abnormal pitch quality and rhythm -- that may indicate the child has autism. In a study of 190 children, the audio test was 89 percent accurate.

"If you can identify a child before 3 years of age and start intervention, it can make a huge difference in outcome," said Gilkerson.

Gilkerson say the audio screening analyzes different sounds the child makes -- even if the child doesn't speak, it can detect the audio in grunts and other noises. The cost for the test is $250.

EARLY DETECTION: Some children with an ASD show hints of future problems within the first few months of life. In others, symptoms might not show up until 24 months or later. Some children with an ASD seem to develop normally until around 18 to 24 months of age and then they stop gaining new skills, or they lose the skills they once had. A person with an ASD might:

  • Not respond to their name by 12 months
  • Not point at objects to show interest (point at an airplane flying over) by 14 months
  • Not play "pretend" games by 18 months
  • Avoid eye contact and want to be alone
  • Have trouble understanding other people's feelings or talking about their own feelings
  • Have delayed speech and language skills
  • Repeat words or phrases over and over
  • Give unrelated answers to questions
  • Get upset by minor changes
  • Have obsessive interests
  • Flap their hands, rock their body, or spin in circles
  • Have unusual reactions to the way things sound, smell, taste, look, or feel (

LENAbaby: LENA stands for Language ENvironment Analysis. It is a system actively being used in research to help detect autism and other developmental disorders at an early age. It's a system designed to capture the amount of talk in your child's environment. Using a Digital Language Processor (DLP) and Language Environment Software, LENA quanti?es and analyzes conversations between you and your child. It also provides a percentile rank compared to both a nationally representative group of 314 families and to other LENA users. The two-ounce LENA DLP is placed a child's pocket.. At the end of the day, the DLP can be plugged into a computer to analyze the conversations and word count.

For More Information, Contact:

Jill Gilkerson, PhD
Director of Child Language Research
(303) 545-9696