May 15 , 2008

Research tool can detect autism at 9 months of age

 

Hamilton, ON – The ability to detect autism in children as young as nine months of age is on the horizon, according to researchers at McMaster University.

The Early Autism Study, led by Mel Rutherford, associate professor of psychology in the Faculty of Science, has been using eye tracker technology to that measures eye direction while the babies look at faces, eyes, and bouncing balls on a computer screen. 

Rutherford will present her peer-reviewed research tomorrow (May 16) at the 7th Annual International Meeting for Autism Research in London. (www.autism-insar.org) .

“What’s important about this study is that now we can distinguish between a group of siblings with autism from a group with no autism – at nine months and 12 months,” says Rutherford. “I can do this in 10 minutes, and it is objective, meaning that the only measure is eye direction; it’s not influenced by a clinician’s report or by intuition. Nobody’s been able to distinguish between these groups at so early an age.”

Currently, the earliest diagnostic test for autism is reliable around the age of two, and most children in Ontario are diagnosed around age three or four. The earlier the diagnosis the better the overall prognosis, says Rutherford.

“There is an urgent need for a quick, reliable and objective screening tool to aid in diagnosing autism much earlier than is presently possible,” she says. “Developing a tool for the early detection of autism would have profound effects on people with autism, their parents, family members, and future generations of those at risk of developing autism.”

More information on the Early Autism Study can found at www.earlyautismstudy.com.

McMaster University, a world-renowned, research-intensive university, fosters a culture of innovation, and a commitment to discovery and learning in teaching, research and scholarship. Based in Hamilton, the University, one of only four Canadian universities to be listed on the Top 100 universities in the world, has a student population of more than 23,000, and an alumni population of more than 131,000 in 128 countries.

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For more information, please contact:


Mel Rutherford

Associate professor,

Department of Psychology, Neuroscience & Behaviour,

Faculty of Science,

McMaster University

905-525-9140 ext 27120

rutherm@mcmaster.ca

Jane Christmas

Manager, Public & Media Relations

McMaster University

905-525-9140 ext. 27988

chrisja@mcmaster.ca

Michelle Donovan

Public Relations Manager: Broadcast Media

McMaster University

905-525-9140 ext. 22869

donovam@mcmaster.ca