Finding early clues to autism


by KING Health Team

Posted on March 13, 2012 at 6:00 AM

Updated Tuesday, Mar 13 at 12:07 PM

Dalton Foreaker seems like any other three year old. But when he was just a baby his mother noticed subtle signs that made her suspect he had autism.

"I remember him not responding to his name when I would call him," said Casey Foreaker.

Dalton was diagnosed with autism at just 16 months. Siblings have a greater risk of autism, so Foreaker enrolled Dalton's little brother Jayden in a study, to diagnose autism earlier.

Researchers monitor Jayden's response to recorded images.

"There's some indication that in older children and adults with autism, they don't pay the same degree of attention to people as they do to the objects and things in the background." explained Mark Strauss, Ph.D., Psychologist, at the University of Pittsburgh.

Scientists also look to see which side of a face babies focus on. Human brains are wired to look to the right. Studies have shown adults with autism don't favor a side.

Researcher Jill Gilkerson Ph.D. is Director of Child Language Research at the LENA Foundation. She is using children's voices to help identify those at risk for autism. Parents place a small recording device into a front pocket of the child's clothing.

"It records everything a child says and everything that's spoken around them," said Dr. Gilkerson.

Then a processor uses speech recognition technology to look for patterns, such as abnormal pitch quality, and rhythm. It could indicate a child has autism. In a study of 190 children, the audio test was 89 percent accurate in identifying children with an autism diagnosis. The researchers presented their findings at the 2010 Gatlingburg Conference.

"If you can identify a child before three years of age and start intervention, it can make a huge difference in outcome," said Dr. Gilkerson.
Interventions are now helping Dalton. He is improving all the time.

Dr. Gilkerson said the audio screening analyses different sounds a child makes, even if the child doesn't speak. It can detect audio patterns in grunts and other noises.