Washington: Scientists have developed a two-minute questionnaire for parents that could help doctors detect autism in toddlers, at a time when intervention might be crucial.
The Psychological Development Questionnaire (PDQ-1), developed by researchers at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School in the US, correctly identified youngsters who have autism spectrum disorder (ASD) with 88 per cent accuracy.
The 1,959 18- to 36-month-old children who participated in the study received screening through a network of pediatric practices and were not known to have any developmental problems.
Those who got low PDQ-1 scores were considered to be at risk of ASD and received comprehensive developmental evaluations to determine whether they were on the spectrum.
The new screening test correctly identified autism in children from all socioeconomic communities, according to the study published in the Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics.
"Too many children, especially from low-income communities, are identified late. The availability of valid and efficient screeners, like the PDQ-1, may enhance our ability to detect ASD in young children and expand the number of youngsters receiving early intervention," said Walter Zahorodny, associate professor at Rutgers.
Some of the PDQ-1 questions posed to parents include whether the child points or gestures to show interest or get attention, responds to their name, enjoys playing peek-a-boo, speaks in phrases and relates to others.
While the early detection of ASD is challenging, and no single behavioral or observational approach is likely to be reliable for all children, researchers believe their screening method is promising and deserves wider application and study.
"Diagnosis of autism can only be accomplished through comprehensive evaluation by a professional," Zahorodny said.
"Effective screening is but the first step toward diagnosis. If we want to improve early detection, easy-to-use and reliable autism screeners need to be widely used," he said.
According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention one in 68 children have ASD.
Autism occurs in all racial, ethnic and socioeconomic groups, but is 3 to 4 times more common in boys.
Though the American Academy of Pediatricians has urged pediatricians to screen all children for ASD at 18 and 24 months, since 2007, it is estimated that only half of all children are screened at that age.