Autism affects about 1 in 110 children in the US and it’s typically tough to diagnose. But according to new research, an autism diagnosis could soon be as easy as taking a pregnancy test. Scientists at Imperial College London and the University of South Australia discovered that the urinary metabolic fingerprint, or the chemical makeup of urine, is different in children with autism than those without.
The discovery could lead to a simple urine test capable of diagnosing autism as early as six months old. Early detection will allow doctors and parents to start social and behavioral treatment much earlier than currently possible, and more importantly, possibly prevent permanent psychological damage.
Usually, children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD), which include Asperger syndrome, also have gastrointestinal issues due to different bacteria in the gut. The study published in the Journal of Proteome examined these differences and discovered they could be detected in urine, thus diagnosing the disorder.
“Children with autism have very unusual gut microbes which we can test for before the full blown symptoms of the disease come through.” Lead study author professor Jeremy Nicholson told the Daily Telegraph. “If that is the case then it might become a preventable disease.”
Currently, autism assessments can be very lengthy involving many tests and evaluations of a child’s communication, socialization and imagination by doctors and therapists of multiple disciplines. And while some symptoms may be present in the first few months of a child’s life, the disorder is very difficult to determine before 18 months to 2 years of age, when kids start talking. In fact, the average age of an autism diagnosis is almost six years old.
But early intervention is incredibly important for treatment to be most effective, helping to raise IQ levels and improve language skills and behavior. Bottom line: It should begin before age six. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 15 years of research shows that intensive early intervention for at least two years during the preschool years leads to improvements in most young children with ASD.
Early detection and early intervention programs are being developed as well, including a newly-launched pilot program the Autism Workforce Initiative at the University of Oklahoma, which aims to help doctors diagnose ASD sooner and provides 17 hours of therapy a week for children as young as 15 months old. Even so, having your tot pee in a cup at 6 months old would lead to the easiest and earliest answer.