A new study suggests a new method that would diagnose early autism in toddlers by simply having them perform a sniff test, as researchers call it.
Children who participated in the experiments were asked to watch a cartoon while their nasal airflow was measured. At the same time, the nasal cannula – which was attached to an olfactometer – was delivering pleasant and unpleasant odorants.
Diagnosing autism spectrum disorder (ASD) can be an elusive matter. Professor Sobel and his team attempted to find a connection between a child’s reaction to smells and increased risk of ASD. To find out, 18 children with normal development and 18 children with autism were tested by their sniff responses to pleasant and unpleasant odors.
According to Liron Rozenkrantz, a doctoral student in neurobiology at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel, toddlers and children dealing with ASD have a tough time differentiating smells, which leads to the sniff reaction to be the same, regardless of how bad or enjoyable a scent is.
Rozenkrantz explained that before this method can become a way of detecting early autism, it needs to undergo testing in young babies. Moreover, babies whose results show they are at risk of ASD would have to be monitored into childhood to verify if initial tests are confirmed and the child actually developed the disorder.
The sniff response is intuitive and innate, as both adults and children who experience a typical development have a similar reaction to different scents.
Following further research in this field, researchers conducting this study are positive that autism will become easier to detect beyond the 14-to-24-month window, even before ASD’s behavioral red flags – motor, social and physical changes – appear.
Having the same sniff response to both pleasant and unpleasant scents may be an indication for autism in children. Even though he was not involve in this study, Dr. Glen Elliott, medical director and head of psychiatry at Children’s Health Council in Palo Alto, California, believes this innovative testing method that bases on how autistic children process odors has really good odds of becoming widely use.
For years researchers have been looking for ways of detecting early autism because it has been proven to improve chances for the child to experience a more normal development. What happens is that parents who know about their child’s condition are more prepared to meet his needs.
Next step is testing to see if the sniff-response pattern only applies to autism, because researchers suspect it might show up in other neuro-developmental conditions as well.
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