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Ozonoff said the study should prompt families and their children's doctors to be vigilant with infants whose older siblings have autism. Early diagnosis is important because experts say behavioral treatment has the best chance of working if started early.
"Pediatricians need to listen and make a very focused plan for how to monitor those things, rather than taking a wait-and-see attitude" toward children with autistic siblings, Ozonoff said.
Alycia Halladay, a research director at the advocacy group Autism Speaks, said the study provides a more robust, accurate prevalence estimate than previous studies, and strengthens the idea that family history is a risk factor.
Her group, the National Institutes of Health and the Canadian Institute for Health Research are among those who paid for the study.
American Academy of Pediatrics:
National Institutes of Health:
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