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Revised screening tool improves autism detection in toddlers

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A revised questionnaire is more accurate at identifying toddlers who have autism, according to a study published December 23. The Modified Checklist for Autism in Toddlers, Revised with Follow-up (M-CHAT-R/F) is a more reliable autism screening method than a prior questionnaire, report researchers from Georgia State University.

Parents of children between the ages of 16 and 30 months old complete the M-CHAT-R/F during their children’s routine doctor visits. The twenty questions on the M-CHAT-R/F are designed to identify children who are likely to have autism. The M-CHAT-R/F is a revised version of a similar questionnaire.

“This checklist can more accurately identify children likely to have autism so they can get the treatment and support they need,” said Alice Kau, Ph.D., of the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development that funded this study. “Given that the typical autism diagnosis occurs at age 4, it also offers the possibility of detecting autism much earlier — during regular doctor’s visits when a child is 18 months or 2 years old. And earlier intervention has been shown to improve outcomes for children with autism.”

The M-Chat-R/F questions parents about different aspects of their children’s behaviors including:

  • interaction with other children
  • responses to noises
  • gestures and movements
  • eye contact

Depending on parents' responses, children are classified as being at a low, medium or high risk for autism. The M-Chat-R/F recommends that children who are identified as high risk are referred for further evaluations. The M-Chat-R/F includes further questions for children identified as medium risk. These questions are designed to determine if the child should be described as a high or low risk.

The M-Chat-R/F is just one of several tools available to help doctors identify children with autism. More information on how autism is diagnosed is available from Massachusetts General Hospital and Boston Children's Hospital. The video accompanying this article describes how an autism diagnosis is made. Parents can view and download the M-Chat-R/F from its website.

The study, "Validation of the Modified Checklist for Autism in Toddlers, Revised With Follow-up (M-CHAT-R/F)", is published in the journal Pediatrics.

Sources:

Validation of the Modified Checklist for Autism in Toddlers, Revised With Follow-up (M-CHAT-R/F)

Revised autism screening tool offers more precise assessment

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