Parents' Observations Crucial to Early Autism Diagnosis

Magazine Issue
Spring 2019

Profile picture of Terisa Gabrielsen
An important McKay School study provides insight into why children might not be identified as being at-risk for autism spectrum disorder when they are toddlers and why intervention has the most pronounced effects.

This study of children ranging in ages from 15 to 33 months found that if experts have only 10 minutes to observe a child (the average time for pediatric exams), they will not have enough information about symp­toms associated with autism.

Experts who reviewed short videos of 10-minute observa­tions missed referrals for 39 percent of the children with autism. It is possible that in a short exam, a physician may see mostly typical behavior and conclude that the child is not at risk. Parent reports of symptoms and easily avail­able autism screening ques­tionnaires can provide very valuable information in addi­tion to the in-person exam.

Despite the unknowns about autism, one thing that researchers agree on is that early intervention can alter the outcome by beginning treatment while the child's brain is rapidly developing. A more comprehensive screen­ing process, with specific input from parents who work closely with care providers, will increase the understand­ing of the child and their development and have a positive impact by detecting problems early on.


Terisa Gabrielsen, Assistant Professor, Educational Psychology, Counseling Psychology and Special Education Department

Photo courtesy of the McKay School

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