Researchers have developed a two-minute questionnaire for parents that could help pediatricians and other primary care providers detect autism in toddlers, at a time when intervention might be crucial.
According to the researchers, the Psychological Development Questionnaire (PDQ-1) had an 88 per cent likelihood of correctly identifying which of the youngsters that screened positive because of the questionnaire had autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
"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 lead author of the study, Walter Zahorodny, Associate Professor at Rutgers University.
For the study, published in the Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics, researchers examined 1,959 children who were between 18- to 36-month-old.
They received screening through a network of cooperating 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, the researchers said.
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.
The researcher also said that the findings provide preliminary evidence in support of the PDQ-1.
The new tools may provide a practical alternative to the Modified Checklist for Autism in Toddlers and the follow-up (M-CHAT-R/F) which requires a telephone interview in addition to screening.
While the early detection of ASD is challenging and no single behavioural or observational approach is likely to be reliable for all children, the researchers believe their new screening method is promising and deserves wider application and study.