Washington, May 21 : An early diagnostic test for autism is on the horizon, thanks to researchers at McMaster University, who are developing a new test for detecting autism as early as nine months of age.
The Early Autism Study, led by Mel Rutherford, associate professor of psychology in the Faculty of Science, has been using eye tracker technology that measures eye direction while the babies look at faces, eyes, and bouncing balls on a computer screen.
"What's important about this study is that now we can distinguish between a group of siblings with autism from a group with no autism - at nine months and 12 months," said Rutherford.
"I can do this in 10 minutes, and it is objective, meaning that the only measure is eye direction; it's not influenced by a clinician's report or by intuition.
Nobody's been able to distinguish between these groups at so early an age," she added.
Currently, the earliest diagnostic test for autism is reliable around the age of two, and most children in Ontario are diagnosed around age three or four.
The earlier the diagnosis the better the overall prognosis, said Rutherford.
"There is an urgent need for a quick, reliable and objective screening tool to aid in diagnosing autism much earlier than is presently possible," she said.
"Developing a tool for the early detection of autism would have profound effects on people with autism, their parents, family members, and future generations of those at risk of developing autism," she added.
Rutherford presented her peer-reviewed research at the 7th Annual International Meeting for Autism Research in London.