The early detection of autism spectrum disorders along with any other type of developmental delay has long been agreed to be of the utmost importance when it comes to treatment. Over the years, as autism diagnosis numbers continue to climb, several new tests and evaluations have been designed to identify children at risk for autism at earlier and earlier ages. Unfortunately, the average age for an autism diagnosis is still hovers around three years. That’s why any way for doctors, parents, and educators to diagnose or at least identify risks for autism and other developmental issues could make a world of difference in terms of treatments and ultimate educational outcomes. Identifying Autism at 1 Year In an effort to lower the too-high average age for autism diagnoses, researchers from the University of North Carolina’s Program for Early Autism Research, Leadership, and Service (PEARLS) developed a 63-unit questionnaire designed for parents of 12-month-old children. The questionnaire takes about 10 minutes for parents to complete. It given the name First Year Inventory (FYI) and was given to a sample group of 699 one-year-olds who were then followed until age three. The findings of this study, which were published in the July issue of Autism: The International Journal of Research and Practice, show promise that a universal implementation of the FYI could change the face of early autism diagnosis. Of the 699 children surveyed, 31% of those identified as at risk for autism spectrum disorders when they were 12 months old were then given a confirming diagnosis at three. More significantly, however, 85% of those identified as at risk for autism at 12 months were diagnosed with a developmental disability concern once they were three. The Importance of Early Detection, Early Intervention Anyone who has ever been able to work with or observe children in Early Intervention Programs for autism and related disorders can likely testify to their value. Parents are often scared of words like “autistic,” not always knowing how to help their young children thrive. In addition to providing children with the cognitive and social skill-building that they need, Early Intervention also provides a support system for parents and caregivers that helps them to better understand the struggles of their child. On the flip side, anyone who has worked with or observed autistic and developmentally-delayed children who have not received Early Intervention services can testify to the struggles that these children present to their parents and teachers alike. Without understanding and tailored methods of instruction, autistic children will not only fail to develop but become increasingly difficult to manage and eventually teach. Helping parents get access to these resources thus prevents further, and more expensive, intervention tactics down the road. Study Implications and Future Hopes The authors of this study and other researchers at PEARLS are extremely optimistic about what the first look at FYI results reveals. Explains lead author, Lauren Turner-Brown, “These findings are encouraging and suggest promise in the approach of using parent report of infant behaviors as a tool for identifying 12-month-olds who are at risk for an eventual diagnosis of ASD [autism spectrum disorders].” The hope is that by increasing the likelihood of earlier diagnosis of autism and related disorders providing Early Intervention even earlier can better prepare these children and their parents for future success. In addition, there is also hope that catching autistic children at younger and younger ages will help researchers to identify what elements cause and/or exacerbate ASD symptoms. Here, the aim is at finding a way to better integrate the growing number of autistic children into our school system for the long run.
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