AutismAutism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a range of complex neurodevelopment disorders characterized by impaired social interaction, impaired verbal and non-verbal communication, and restricted and repetitive behavior. Spotting autism early would have a positive effect on children with autism. An international team of researchers claim they have discovered a blood-based measure that could lead to a clinical test that can identify signs of autism in boys just 1 or 2 years old.

Currently, autism-specific evaluations comprising developmental screening and comprehensive diagnostic evaluation are used to diagnose the condition. Most children on the spectrum are not identified until after age 4. The new study published in a recent online issue of JAMA Psychiatry reports on a blood-based measure that could lead to a clinical blood test to diagnose autism risk accurately in boys as young as one to two years old.

The team led by researchers at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine, identified blood-based genomic biomarkers that differentiated toddlers aged one to four years old with ASD from a control group of toddlers without ASD. They studied white blood cell RNA expression levels in blood samples of children with autism, typically-developing kids, and those with other types of developmental delays. The researchers said that this test helped to accurately diagnose ASD.

According to a 2014 surveillance study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 1 in 68 children (1 in 42 boys and 1 in 189 girls) have ASD. Because the causes of autism are complex and can vary, it can be difficult to conclusively diagnose a child before the child turns four. If this new blood-based clinical test could be refined and routinely implemented in pediatric diagnostic settings as the researchers expect, it would greatly boost the efficacy of intervention and remedial treatments for at-risk toddlers.