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Autistic children display repetitive behaviors by 12 months

Healthday News reports red flags for autism may appear as early as 12 months of age. In fact, in a new autistic study of 184 children who were determined to be at high risk for autism, repetitive behaviors were spotted before one year of age. Common behaviors included “flapping their hands or arms, rocking back and forth, or focusing obsessively on one toy.”

Jason Wolff, one of the lead researchers for the autistic study and an assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, noted that repetitive behaviors are not unusual, but the number of repetitive behaviors for children who were considered “normal” where lower than autistic children and generally peaked around six months of age.

If a child is autistic, however, the behaviors may still be present as the child nears 12 months of age, and often the number of behaviors is increasing, not decreasing. Watching for repetitive behaviors is simply one tool parents have to screen for this disease, although medical experts warn that it is simply one observational tool and should be combined with other more clinical studies.

Autistic study details


For the autism study Wolff and his team tracked fifty-nine children who were at average risk and one hundred and eighty four children who had a sibling with autism and who were considered higher risk. Parents were asked to complete a questionnaire detailing any behaviors which were considered repetitive.

According to the study, “42 of the high-risk children were diagnosed with autism at age 2. And those children had shown many more repetitive behaviors at the age of 12 months -- an average of four to eight different types.”

Researchers admit trying to identify autism through repetitive behaviors can be difficult, and there is a risk that some children who do not have the disorder could be misidentified. Other tests should also be used such as electroencephalograms (EEGs) which are used to gauge brain activity. EEGs have been used to distinguish high-risk youngsters from children at average risk of autism and to separate children who went on to develop the disorder.

The research team will continue their research noting that their goal is “to fine-tune the way repetitive behavior is measured.” They also want to be careful to eliminate what they consider to be false positives. Regardless, Wolff believes the study gave a good starting point to analyze autism.

What causes autism?


What scientists and researchers have not been able to yet discover is the primary cause of autism. Scientists have identified the genes which are involved and agree that it is genetic. This also means that if one sibling has autism the chance of another sibling developing the disorder could be as high as 20%.

Spotting autism early is critical to its treatment. In fact, Wolff believes that children with autism can benefit the most from treatment if medical doctors identify those at risk and intervene with early speech and behavioral therapies. Children who receive early intervention consistently perform better in the long run.

"At one time, people thought repetitive behavior didn't really show up until preschool," Wolff said. But recent research, including the current study, has shown that to be untrue.

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