A simple “pull-to-sit” test on infants at six months old may help doctors predict autism and other delays, a new study has found.
The study by Kennedy Krieger Institute researchers looked at infants at high genetic risk for autism and found many had weak head and neck control. A large number went on to be diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders, though some had other, more mild language or social delays.
The test, added to other developmental measurements already taken of babies, would provide a red flag for parents of all infants, said Dr. Rebecca Landa, study author and director of Kennedy Krieger’s Center for Autism and Related Disorders. The parents could then seek advice on whether to begin activities to improve performance.
“We don’t want to scare parents,” she said. “If I go to the doctor because I’m having problems with balance, he’s not going to assume I have a brain tumor. When a baby shows a head lag there are so many other things it can be. But this is a very real indicator of something wrong with development and easy things can be done to help.”
Landa planned to present the data and other research at the International Meeting for Autism Research, a scientific gathering on May 17 in Toronto.
She said previous studies have shown the head lag indicates delays in kids with cerebral palsy and pre-term infants; the test has not been used for infants at risk of autism.
She recommended that all pediatricians add the test of postural control to their lineup and follow children closely if a lag exists. There are other indicators for developmental delays such as eye contact and ability to grasp objects, but the pull-to-sit test appears to be the best indicator for autism, Landa said.
Recently, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that 1 in 88 kids has autism, 23 percent higher than an estimate three years ago. This is possibly because of better diagnosis of children.