A child's failure to respond to his or her name at one year of age may be an early warning sign of autism or other developmental problems, researchers reported on Monday.
The finding is significant because "earlier identification of autism offers the possibility of early intervention, which holds promise for improving outcomes," said the report from the University of California Davis in Sacramento.
" ... This has motivated a growing body of research that aims to ascertain the earliest reliable indicators of autism."
The study, published in the April issue of the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, involved 101 children age one whose older siblings had autism, and who were therefore considered at risk. They were compared to 46 infants of the same age who were not believed to be at high risk of developing the disorder.
With each child seated at a table with a small toy, a researcher walked behind and called his or her name in a clear voice. If the child did not respond after three seconds, the name was called again no more than twice.
All of the infants in the low-risk group responded to their name on the first or second call, the study said, compared to 86 percent in the at-risk group.
For up to two years afterward the researchers followed 46 of the infants from the at-risk group and 25 from the low-risk group. They found that three-quarters of those who did not respond to their name at age 12 months had developmental problems at age 2.
Of the children later diagnosed with autism, half had failed the test at one year, and of those who were identified as having any type of developmental delay, 39 percent had failed the name recognition test, the report said.
While the test will not find all children at risk for developmental problems, it is easy to administer, takes few resources and doctors might want to include it in child check-ups at age one, the study said.
In a related article in the same journal, researchers at Abt Associates Inc., Lexington, Massachusetts, and Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, said an analysis of medical literature and surveys found that each person with autism costs U.S. society about $3.2 million over his or her lifetime.
The figure includes such factors as lost productivity for children and their parents, care for victims as adults, prescription medications, special education and behavioral therapies.