April 15, 2014 | Children’s National Health System
While a number of studies have reported that parents of children with ASD notice developmental problems in children before their first birthday, there has yet to be a screening tool to identify those children.
“While the ‘gold standard’ screening tool is the M-CHAT questionnaire, it must be read and completed by parents and then interpreted by a healthcare provider,” said lead author Carole A. Samango-Sprouse, George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences, Washington, DC. “What physicians are missing is a quick and effective screening measure that can easily be given to all infants regardless of background and identify ASD before 12 months. This screening is also helpful in identifying those babies who may not initially appear to be at risk and would otherwise be missed until much later in life.”
The current study looked at the use of head circumference and head tilting reflex as 2 biomarkers that can be used during their well-baby visits by their primary care providers. Both screenings were given to nearly 1,000 patients at the 4-, 6-, and 9-month well-baby visits.
At the end of 9 months, those infants with a head circumference above or equal to the 75th percentile, a head circumference that was in 10% discrepancy with the height of the baby, or those who failed the head tilting reflex test were considered at risk for ASD or a developmental language delay. These infants were then evaluated by a neuro-develomental specialist and paediatric neurologist to differentiate between these disorders.
Of the 49 infants that displayed abnormal results, without previous diagnosis, 15 were identified at-risk for ASD and 34 at risk for developmental language delay. Of the 15 children who were identified at-risk for ASD between 9 and 12 months, 14 (93%) sustained the diagnosis when it was made clinically at age 3 years.
“We will continue looking at the efficacy of the head circumference and head tilting reflex as a screening tool for these disorders,” said Andrea Gropman, MD, Children’s National Healthy System, Washington, DC. “As with all developmental delays, especially ASD, the sooner we can identify those children who are at risk, the sooner we can intervene and provide appropriate treatment. In other words, the sooner we identify these delays, the better the outcome for those affected.”