Babies may show signs of autism



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Posted on August 10, 2010 at 5:30 PM

Updated Friday, Jan 4 at 10:45 AM

The idea that an autistic child could be diagnosed as an infant - and therefore be able to get the earliest treatment possible - is intriguing to experts in the field.

"Waiting 3 years versus 3 months obviously might make a big difference," said Dr. Max Wiznitzer, UH Rainbow Babies & Children's Hospital, Cleveland 

A small new study of babies who'd been placed in the neo-natal intensive care unit after birth was originally intended to research infant development. 

"This was not meant to be an autism study, but they went back and said: 'mmm we have some features here that can differentiate the kids with autism compared with kids who don't.'"

Some of the children who were later diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder had developmental anomalies as young babies - differences in muscle tone and how they responded to noises and visual patterns.

The differences were subtle, which experts say could not be identified by a parent. And it's too early to generalize these findings to healthy newborns. 

"These were babies who were sick enough that they ended up in an intensive care unit and then were followed afterwards to monitor their development," said Dr. Wiznitzer.

Still, these red flags could be used in future infant autism studies. The hope is to find solid autism markers that doctors can look for -- even in their tiniest patients.

Even though there's no real cure for autism, the experts say getting these children into treatment programs as early as possible helps.
Current early signs of autism include not making eye contact, not responding to their name, repetitive behaviors and not socializing or interacting appropriately.

The study is from researchers at New York State Institute for Basic Research (Staten Island, NY). It's published in the September issue of Pediatrics.

More information

Autism Speaks

First Signs