New Screening Questionnaire May Help Diagnose Autism

Completed by a parent or caregiver, the new freely available questionnaire is designed to screen for ASD and monitor autism symptoms in children.

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a neurodevelopmental condition characterized by impaired social interaction and communication and restricted and repetitive behaviors and interests.

According to 2018 CDC surveillance data, autism affects about 1 in 44 children. In 2008, that number was 1 in 88, indicating that the rate of autism is increasing.

Evidence suggests that early diagnosis of autism is critical. For example, a 2017 study found that early intervention with evidence-based therapies can significantly improve the quality of life for autistic children and their families.

However, the road to diagnosis is not always a clear-cut path.

The diagnostic journey often starts with a parent noticing their child’s symptoms and reporting them to their pediatrician. The healthcare provider then uses diagnostic tools and autism tests consisting of parent observation reports and clinical evaluations.

However, these tools are intended to screen children within a narrow age range or focus on only one symptom domain. In addition, some are only available through a doctor.

Now, scientists have developed the Autism Symptom Dimensions Questionnaire (ASDQ) — a new freely available autism screening and symptom monitoring questionnaire to assist in the diagnostic process.

The details of the ASDQ’s research and development appear in a study published on January 11 in Developmental Medicine & Child Neurology.

According to the study, after developing an initial 33-item version, the scientists revised the questionnaire to include six more items. Two of the added items assessed relationships, one evaluated sensory sensitivity, two centered on sensory interests, and one analyzed restricted interests.

The researchers recruited the parents of 1467 children and adolescents aged 2–17 years, including 104 with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Parents then completed the questionnaire available in Microsoft Word or PDF format.

After analyzing the results, the scientists found that the ASDQ showed reliable and accurate measurement of autism symptoms and had good screening efficiency for autism spectrum disorder relative to other developmental conditions.

In addition, the questionnaire’s accuracy remained consistent across relevant subsamples, including children aged 2–4 years, females, and different ethnic groups.

Although the study is exploratory, the researchers note that the ASDQ shows potential as a screening tool.

“Having a freely available and modern measure of autism symptoms can greatly improve clinical practice and advance research into autism spectrum disorder,” said corresponding author Thomas W. Frazier, PhD, of John Carroll University in a news release.

“Future work should include a larger sample of undiagnosed children aged 2 to 4 years, including stratification according to speech and language level and intellectual disability, to better assess the potential of the ASDQ as a screening tool,” the authors wrote.

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