Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Early Autism Diagnosis

By Stephen Luntz

Josie Barbaro has pioneered a new method of autism diagnosis, and many children are already reaping the benefits.

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

Thousands of autistic children are deprived of the chance to reach their potential as a result of not being diagnosed sufficiently early. Dr Josie Barbaro’s PhD thesis explored using maternal and child health care centres to address this problem, and the awards she has won in the process confirm the excitement her work is generating.

Not long ago only one American child in 10,000 was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), but that rate is now one in 88. The shift is largely a result of alterations to the definition and better diagnosis, but the increase has caused alarm.

Many early diagnosis tests rely on parental observations, but Barbaro notes: “Parents may not know what is normal development, particularly if it is their first child. Some tests out there have almost 100% sensitivity, but they achieve this by casting such a wide net that any child who is at all unusual gets picked up.”

Applying more reliable tests to these children is expensive, and Barbaro is also concerned about the effects of uncertainty on the parents. Instead, she has focused on training large numbers of child health professionals who inevitably have a much better understanding of the range of behaviour in children 12–24 months old. Behaviours monitored include widely accepted markers such as making eye contact, imitation, pointing and pretend play. She calls her work the...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.