Thursday, April 28, 2011

New Test for Autism in Babies

Test Flags Babies With Autism, But Also Feeds False Alarms
Pediatricians can use a five-minute questionnaire to identify many 1-year-olds with autism, according to a new study in Journal of Pediatrics.

But the screening test also flags a whole lot of babies who aren't autistic.

Even so, the result provides "an exciting proof of concept," says Thomas Insel, director of the National Institute of Mental Health, in a statement. NIMH helped pay for the study.

For many years, researchers have suggested that autism treatments would be more effective if they began at an earlier age — though studies have yet to show whether that's the case. Today, many children with autism don't receive a diagnosis until they are 5 or even older.
This is pretty good stuff.  It may be the final nail in the coffin of the undead zombie that is the "vaccine hypothesis", that childhood vaccines (and more particularly the mercury compound thimerosal used to preserve many of them) has caused an increase in autism.  If autism is diagnosed before the vaccines are administered, they can't be the cause.  If temperature rises before CO2 rises...but I digress.

However at this point the questionnaire doesn't equivocally diagnose autism; it seems to point to a variety of learning disorders.  Of more than 10,000 babies tested, 184 were "flagged", but only 32 were later diagnosed with "autism spectrum disorder" (a name like that should be a clue we don't know what we're talking about).  If, as the article suggests, 1% of children become autistic (I've also seen 0.6%, close enough for biogeochemistry), the test also failed to find more than half the autistic children in the group.  So it may identify half the ultimate cases of autism, and "false positively" diagnoses 5 times as many as being possibly autistic.

Still, a "flagged" baby probably has learning issues of some sort.  Better to flag and begin to study and treat than to ignore and wait for full blown autism to manifest itself.  By then the damage done to the family and the mother in particular can be horrendous.

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