Parent questionnaire picks up ASD at age one

According to a report published 10 July 2012 in Autism: The International Journal of Research & Practice by Lauren Turner-Brown and her colleagues of the University of North Carolina, their First Year Inventory (FYI) completed by parents when their children were only one year old correctly identified nine children who were later found to have Autism Spectrum Disorders.

Initially almost 1200 parents completed the FYI—a 63-item questionnaire that only requires about 10 minutes to fill out—when their children were 12 months old and agreed to participate in later research; at the time they completed the FYI the researchers had no scales to indicate whether scores indicated risk. At follow-up within 6 months of the the children’s third birthday, almost 700 then completed additional assessments—Social Responsiveness Scale–Preschool Version and the Developmental Concerns Questionnaire. Using these data (which they scored liberally so they wouldn’t miss possible cases), the researchers identified children at risk for developmental disorders.

They invited families of those at risk (as well as a few not-at-risk children so that the psychologists, who were kept naive about the purposes of the assessments, doing the assessments would have a few “ringers” in the group) to visit the research site for additional assessments. Assessments included the Mullen Scales of Early Learning and the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule; parents completed a clinical interview, the Vineland Scales of Adaptive Behavior (2nd Edition), and an autism spectrum diagnostic checklist of symptoms according to Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders–Fourth Edition.

Using these data, the researchers were able to identify the the nine cases of ASD (6 with Autism, 3 with PDDNOS). (Of course, some had been diagnosed in the community.) In addition, they found that over 40 children apparently had been diagnosed or treated for non-ASD developmental problems, and over 80 more children were in a group they called “Developmental Concerns” meaning that “that parents reported some concern or that a professional had noted some concern about the child” (p. 9). In total, that is roughly 18% of their 700 participating children.

“These results indicate that an overwhelming majority of children who screen positive on the FYI indeed experience some delay in development by age three that may warrant early intervention,” Grace Baranek, senior developer of the FYI, said.

Now that Professor Turner-Brown and her colleagues have been able to follow this sample of children into early childhood, they can see how their instrument predicts developmental problems, and they will be able to begin using it more practically. Additional payoff will come as they are able to follow the children into the school years.

Although this research team is focusing on Autism and ASD, it may be that their larger contribution will be the benefits of screening for a wide spectrum of disorders. Early detection and intervention is likely to be beneficial for problems beyond ASD!

Turner-Brown, L. M., Baranek, G. T., Reznick, J. S., Watson, L. R., & Crais, E. R. (2012). The First Year Inventory: A longitudinal follow-up of 12-month-old to 3-year-old children. Autism, 16. Published online before print July 10, 2012. doi: 10.1177/1362361312439633

The UNC Med School’s press release provided the quotes I’ve used here: Questionnaire completed by parents may help identify 1-year-olds at risk for autism. The FYI questionnaire was developed by the Program for Early Autism Research, Leadership & Service (PEARLS) team. One can learn more about the FYI from the PEARLS Web site.

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