Researchers have found that babies who don't respond to their names at one year might be at risk for a variety of developmental disorders, including autism. Although as many as half the parents of children with autism report concerns about their child's developmental progress before the first birthday, the disorder is usually not diagnosed until age 3 or 4.
Dr. Sally Ozonoff says that's why she and her colleagues at the University of California, Davis, looked at infant behavior. "We wanted to figure out how to identify autism as early as possible so treatment could be started when the brain is most changeable, and therefore have the most impact."
Infants whose older siblings had autism, and who were therefore at risk for it, were compared with control infants who were not at high risk of developing the disorder. While each child sat at a table playing with a small toy, a researcher walked behind the child and called his or her name in a clear voice. If the child did not respond after 3 seconds, the name was called again, up to two more times.
"Almost all children in our study who failed to respond to their name at 12 months of age had some later developmental problems," Ozonoff reports. "About half had autism and the others had speech or general developmental delays."
Ozonoff stresses that parents should not be overly concerned if their child doesn't respond once or twice. "We're looking for a consistency of pattern over time," she explains. "But if a parent noticed that their child consistently doesn't turn around when they call their name, they should bring that information to their pediatrician right away."
While the test will not find all children at risk for developmental problems, Ozonoff points out that it is easy to administer, takes few resources and doctors might want to include it as a standard part of child check-ups at age one. The study is published in the April issue of the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine.