ARRA IMPACT REPORT:
Autism Spectrum Disorder – Screening & Diagnosis
Public Health Burden
Current estimates suggest that autism spectrum disorder (ASD) affects as many as 1 in 88 U.S. children.1 ASD is associated with a wide range of developmental issues, but the core symptoms are problems with social interactions and communication skills, as well as repetitive and stereotyped behaviors. Symptoms usually appear before age three, and can cause delays or problems that develop from infancy to adulthood.
Advances in Screening and Diagnosis
Early detection of ASD enables early intervention, which can have a significant positive impact on a child’s overall quality of life. Healthcare providers trying to diagnose ASD currently must rely on behavioral and social measures.
ARRA-funded research has identified innovative techniques for advancing accurate, early diagnosis of ASD. In an effort to develop a more anatomically-based method for diagnosis, investigators at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia used a brain imaging technology, called diffusion tensor imaging (DTI), to measure differences in tracts of neuronal fibers that conduct long-distance communications between brain regions. The investigators were able to use this non-invasive, anatomically-based imaging technique to distinguish with high accuracy between individuals with ASD and those serving as controls.2
Assessing Risk in Infancy
For parents of a child with ASD, the possibility that their future children may also develop the disorder is a deep concern. ARRA-funded researchers have developed a more accurate assessment of actual sibling risk. Utilizing a uniquely thorough and reliable research design, investigators at the University of California, Davis analyzed data from a large sample of 664 infants who had older siblings with ASD. They found that 18.7% of the infants whose siblings had ASD developed ASD themselves, a higher recurrence rate than previous estimates suggested. Moreover, male infants with an older sibling with ASD had a higher risk of developing ASD than did female infants.3
Contributing NIH Institutes & Centers
- National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD)
- National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)