“This finding is incredibly important, as these individuals have the
potential to lower the age of diagnosis,” senior study author Joseph
Buxbaum of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York
said by email. “Early diagnosis means early intervention, which is
critical for improving treatment outcomes.”
Even though autism spectrum disorder (ASD) may be identified
starting when kids are around 2 years old, many children are not
formally diagnosed until they are closer to 4, the researchers note
in the journal Autism. The earlier autism is caught and treated, the
better, because younger kids have more adaptable brains that may
respond more to therapy than older children.
In the current study, an online survey of parents of children with
autism as well as some friends and family members, parents reported
about 25 percent of the time that another person close to the child
noticed signs of autism first.
Kids in the study were diagnosed with autism when they were about 40
months old on average. When they regularly spent time with their
grandmothers, however, they typically were diagnosed about 5 months
“Around 50 percent of friends and family noticed something was wrong
with the child before they were aware that the parents themselves
suspected something,” lead study author Nachum Sicherman of Columbia
University in New York said by email.
About one in 68 children have autism spectrum disorder, which
includes autism as well as Asperger syndrome and other pervasive
developmental disorders, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention.
People with ASD often have problems with social, emotional and
communication skills. They might repeat certain behaviors and might
not want change in their daily activities. Many people with ASD also
have different ways of learning, paying attention, or reacting to
things. Symptoms can be less severe with early detection and
To see how family structure influences when the disorder is caught,
researchers examined survey data from 477 parents of children with
autism and from 106 close friends and family members.
Children without siblings were diagnosed with autism about six to
eight months earlier on average than kids with brothers or sisters
living in the household at the time of their diagnosis, the study
Birth order also matters. Kids with older siblings get diagnosed
about nine to 10 months sooner than children who only have younger
brothers and sisters.
[to top of second column]
When parents said another adult close to the child first identified
the possibility of autism, that person was a maternal grandmother 27
percent of the time and a teacher in 24 percent of cases.
Taken together, grandparents on both sides of the family tree
noticed the potential for autism before parents did about 59 percent
of the time.
The study isn’t a controlled experiment designed to prove how family
structures and relationships with grandparents or teachers directly
impact when autism gets diagnosed.
Another limitation is that the families in the study weren’t
representative of the U.S. population; ack people in particular were
underrepresented, the authors note.
But the findings suggest that close friends and family members may
play a pivotal role in catching autism early, said Norah Johnson, a
pediatric nurse practitioner at Marquette University in Milwaukee,
Wisconsin, who wasn’t involved in the study.
“Delayed diagnosis tends to be from a lack of ability on the part of
parents to make clinicians aware of the child’s social signs of ASD,”
Johnson said by email.
It’s not unusual for grandparents who spend a lot of time with kids
or provide childcare to detect difficulties that might lead to an
autism diagnosis, said Dr. Thomas Frazier, director of the Center
for Autism at Cleveland Clinic Children’s in Ohio.
“Parents need to be open to concerns from their family members,
including their parents, regarding their children,” Frazier, who
wasn’t involved in the study, said by email. “The more eyes the
better, and this is especially true in situations where the child
with possible difficulties is the older child with younger
SOURCE: http://bit.ly/2nnVXxn Autism, online February 8, 2017.
[© 2017 Thomson Reuters. All rights
Copyright 2017 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published,
broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.