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Diagnosing Autism

  • Posted on May 3, 2018

Sometimes I read a medical article that gives me chills. Let me tell you about some research that’s underway.

A hearing test, called the ABR (auditory brainstem response) is done on every newborn to discover hearing impairment early. Researchers noted that some children had a delayed response on the test. These children were later discovered to have autism. The hearing test was able to predict cases of autism during the newborn period!
Four million hearing tests are done each year and these developers are hoping that means 4 million children will be screen annually, allowing earlier treatment and potentially better outcomes for cases of autism. This is especially exciting because other methods of evaluating children for neurologic problems, like an MRI, are too expensive and not always available. This test could be done around the world.
The ABR hearing test evaluates the brainstem, the lower part of the brain while most of our studies of autism have evaluated the cortex. The brainstem, however, matures earlier than the cortex making it an idea starting spot for newborn investigations.  How accurate is the test? They were able to define 70% of the cases of autism based on the ABR…and they are getting better. The current challenge is to do further studies and eventually implement it.

As a side note, documenting a diagnosis of autism at birth will hopefully move us beyond the debate over autism and vaccines.

Susan Badaracco, pediatrician and author of “The Oath” series.