Early Detection

How a five-minute checklist can identify signs of autism at age 1

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Baby’s 1-year checkup can be a good time to screen for autism

Doctors like to pick up the first indicators of disease as early as possible so they can begin effective treatments that might help patients. But when it comes to conditions like autism, that's not always easy.

Autism's behavioral symptoms don't become obvious until babies are about 3 years old, which is when parents and physicians first notice differences in the ways toddlers interact with others and their environment. And therapy usually doesn't start until after that. But researchers say it may be possible to detect subtle warnings of the developmental disorder as early as at 12 months--and all it takes is a simple 24-item questionnaire that parents can complete in the pediatrician's waiting room.

The five-minute screening includes questions like "Does your child point to objects?" and "Does your child use words or sounds to get attention or help?" The test, conducted at infants' 1-year checkup, can identify toddlers who may already be experiencing deficits in language or other types of development, according to a study led by University of California at San Diego researchers. In a trial involving more than 10,000 1-year-olds, nearly 200 who failed the initial screening were referred for more comprehensive testing specifically to diagnose autism-spectrum disorders. After additional testing, 32 were ultimately diagnosed with autism by age 3.

Such early screening may have significant benefits for infants. Behavioral therapies that help children learn more-appropriate ways to respond to people and physical stimuli may be more successful when started earlier. Additionally, if researchers can study the disease in younger children, it could help deepen their knowledge of the causes of and neurological changes that trigger autism and potentially lead to better treatments. In the meantime, the five-minute checklist is a good way to educate both parents and pediatricians about the disorder's early signs and encourage them to seek preventive treatment even before it develops.

ALCOHOL

Should Parents Let Kids Drink At Home?

When it comes to underage drinking, there's no consensus on whether less is more.

In the U.S., legal and cultural policies adhere to a zero-tolerance strategy, on the assumption that allowing teenagers to drink alcohol--even small amounts under adult supervision--might promote problem drinking later on. But in other parts of the world, like Australia, teens are permitted to drink in the presence of adults, on the theory that supervised consumption will encourage more responsible behavior in the future.

A study found that this may not be the case. Comparing alcohol-related problems among ninth-graders in the U.S. and Australia, researchers found that children who were allowed to drink with their parents as seventh-graders reported more fights, blackouts and binge-drinking incidents than those who were banned from imbibing. In fact, regardless of where they lived, teens who drank in front of their parents tended to drink more and encounter more alcohol-related trouble later on. On the basis of these results, it might make sense for teens to treat alcohol as they should other drugs, and just say no.

INFECTIOUS DISEASE

Unhand That Armadillo!

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