Screening Children at 12 Months Old for Autism With the Help of Parents

Eileen Bailey Health Guide
  • One concern about children on the autism spectrum is the difficulty in diagnosing children at a young age – thereby having them miss the benefits of early intervention services. A new study, completed at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine and published in the July 2012 issue of The International Journal of Research & Practice, may provide a way for more children to be diagnosed, or at least screened, for autism spectrum disorders as young as 1 year old.


    The study involved completing a First Year Inventory (FYI) when their child was 12 months old and again when the child was 3 years old. The FYI was developed as a screening tool to identify children at-risk for autism spectrum disorders or other developmental delays.

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    The FYI has 63 questions and parents answer “never”, “seldom”, “sometimes” or “often” to 46 questions. The balance of the questions include: 14 multiple choice, a question asking parents to indicate which sounds a child makes from a list of consonants and two questions asking parents to list any concerns or unusual physical characteristics. The following are some examples of questions [1] where parents need to indicate the frequency of the behavior:

    • Failure to look up or orient toward a voice when the child’s name is called
    • Lack of babbling and delay in other aspects of language development
    • Averting gaze and failing to make eye contact
    • Tendency to withdraw from people and social interactions and to prefer being alone
    • Relatively little emotional expression (e.g. social smiling), including facial, vocal, and gestural channels
    • Few vocalizations with consonants
    • Lack of imitative behaviors
    • Hypo-responsiveness to sensory stimuli
    • Excessive irritability or tantrums, or difficulty calming when distressed
    • Excessive mouthing or licking of objects, toys or hands

    Previous research has shown that the FYI is a valid screening tool for children who are at risk of being on the autism spectrum. A study completed at the University of North Carolina previously looked at 38 children diagnosed with an ASD. Of the 38 children, 35 would have been identified at 12 months old, had the FYI been used. [2]


    The most recent study, also completed at the University of North Carolina, had parents of 699 children complete the FYI when their child was 12 months old and again when their child was 3 years old. Almost one-third of the children who were identified as being at-risk for autism were diagnosed with autism by the age of 3 years old. The study also showed that 85 percent of children found to be at-risk for ASD had some developmental disability or health concern by the age of 3 years old.


    Early intervention services have been found to be very effective in helping children with autism, however, many children miss out on these essential services because a diagnosis is not made until later than 3 years old. The FYI, when used to screen for at-risk behaviors, can be an important tool for identifying children and starting services way before the 3rd birthday. Lauren Turner-Brown, Ph.D., a researcher with the Program for Early Autism, Research, Leadership and Service in the Department of Allied Health Services and the Carolina Institute for Developmental Disability agrees, “Identification of children at risk for ASD at 12 months could provide a substantial number of children and their families with access to intervention services months or years before they would otherwise receive a traditional diagnosis.” [3]


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    [2] “The First Year Inventory Parent Brief,” 2007, Staff Writer, The University of North Carolina


    [1] “A Parent-Report Instrument for Identifying One-Year-Olds at Risk for an Eventual Diagnosis of Autism: The First Year Inventory,” 2006, J. Steven Resnick et al, Journal of Autism Development Disorder


    [3] Parents Can Help Identify Autism in 1 Year Olds,” 2012, July 16, Staff Writer, Medical News Today



Published On: August 15, 2012