Screening Tool Tests Babies for Autism within 12 Months

Mother and baby playing in the bed

A questionnaire could help identify autism in children by age 12 months, which is months or even years earlier than previous testing methods.

The so-called “First Year Inventory” questionnaire, designed by researchers at the University of North Carolina, asks approximately 60 questions about a baby’s behavior. The questions explore things like how reactive the baby is, how repetitive the baby’s behavior is, and how expressive the baby’s communications are, all of which can indicate whether or not a child is likely to be autistic.

In a study using the questionnaire, 30% of the children who were identified as high risk at 12 months were eventually diagnosed with the disorder at 3 years old. The remaining 85% showed other developmental problems at age 3 that needed evaluation and treatment. The number of children who were identified as high risk at 12 months but tested as “normal” at 3 was very low.

And while researchers caution that First Year Inventory testing is merely intended to identify, not diagnose, infants at high risk for autism spectrum disorders, that’s still a good thing: According to the American Academy of Pediatrics and others, earlier screening can enable earlier intervention and, ultimately, a healthier child. The questionnaire is undergoing more testing to evaluate its effectiveness before it’s approved for use.