University of Washington Autism Center opens babies’ clinic

The University of Washington Autism Center has established an infant clinic to evaluate infants and toddlers up to 24 months of age, so as to make early intervention possible.

With only a few infant autism clinics in the U.S, families have brought their infants to the centre from elsewhere in the country, and in a few cases, the world, said Annette Estes, who directs the UW Autism Center.

While autism diagnoses have increased over the years, and an estimated one in 68 people has autism spectrum disorder (ASD), parents have looked for signs earlier in their children’s lives. A growing body of research and practice suggests accurate assessment of children as young as 12 months old, though rare, is not only possible, but also useful.

The average age for autism diagnosis in the United States is around 4 years old.

A little over three years ago, the Autism Center accurately diagnosed its youngest client, a 10-month-old boy. Thanks to subsequent intervention activities, Estes has developed communication skills, engages socially and is thriving in preschool.“Many people have an unfounded belief that you have to wait until 36 months of age to diagnose autism. That is not the case,” said Estes, a research affiliate at the center on Human Development and Disability. “There is a great deal of value in diagnosing as soon as symptoms emerge it gives parents a great deal of relief and allows appropriate intervention to begin”,she added.

Earlier this year, journal Nature published findings from the UW Autism Center’s involvement in a North American effort that examined brain biomarkers in infants, including those with at least one autistic sibling.

The study showed that magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) helped correctly identify 80 percent of babies who would go on to be diagnosed with autism at 2 years of age.

Spotting the signs of autism early is critical, Estes was quoted as saying in a news release from UW, so that a family can connect with the right services, whether in the clinic or out in the community.