Baby's Poor Response to Name Might Warn of Autism

It's just one of many findings pointing to better diagnosis, treatment

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HealthDay Reporter

TUESDAY, April 3, 2007 (HealthDay News) -- A new study suggests that some babies who fail to respond to their name by one year of age may be at heightened risk for an autism spectrum disorder.

Early identification can mean possible early intervention and better outcomes for affected children, say the authors of two studies aimed at early detection, published in the April edition of Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine. The issue is devoted to autism research.

A third study finds that every individual with the disorder accrues about $3.2 million in costs to society over his or her lifetime.

Autism spectrum disorder seems to be becoming more prevalent, with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently announcing that one in every 150 American 8-year-olds have some form of the disorder. That number is higher than prior estimates.

Autism's causes remain cloaked in mystery, although prior research has pointed to a strong genetic component.

Children and adults with autism experience difficulty with social and language skills and often display repetitive behaviors. However, the disorder is usually not diagnosed until age 3 or 4 -- even though as many as half of parents with autistic children report problems with development progress before their child's first birthday.

The findings announced today may help speed diagnosis. In one study, researchers at the M.I.N.D. Institute at the University of California, Davis, found that one-year-old infants who don't respond to their names are more likely to have autism or another developmental problem by the time they're two.

This cue could represent an easy way to spot the disorder early on, experts said.

"One of the challenges has been finding an early exam in the general practitioner's or pediatrician's office that can serve as a warning sign or diagnostic indicator," said Andy Shih, chief science officer for the nation's leading advocacy group, New York City-based Autism Speaks. "That's what this paper is getting at. It doesn't mean that [a non-responsive child] is destined to become autistic, but there seems to be a higher proportion who later go on to develop autism. This, along with many other clues such as language development, eye contact and even head circumference, are potentially simple diagnostic tools that could be used in the general practitioner setting."

A second study -- this time by a team at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn. -- found that younger siblings of children with autism perform below par on tests of social and communication development compared with younger siblings of normal children. These deficits may represent the early indications of an autism spectrum disorder, the researchers said.

"This is demonstrating that even though siblings may not meet the diagnostic criteria of autism, they seem to also have deficits in language and the social domain. They're not developing as typical, normal children," Shih said. "This highlights the importance of paying attention to siblings of autistic children in terms of development. It also shows the importance of early diagnosis. If these deficits or delays can be identified earlier, it's a great opportunity to provide intervention."

A third study, from researchers at Harvard University and ABT Associates Inc, of Lexington, Mass, found that each individual with autism accrues about $3.2 million in costs over a lifetime, with lost productivity and adult day care making up the lion's share.

It was already known that autism costs society more than $35 billion annually in direct and indirect expenses, but it hasn't been clear when these costs occur over a lifetime, the researchers said.

More information

Find out more about the fight against autism at Autism Speaks.

SOURCES: Andy Shih, Ph.D., chief science officer, Autism Speaks, New York City; April 2007, Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine

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