"Name Test" May Suggest Autism - And Cause Panic

An article on the BBC website describes a recent research study conducted at the University of California, Davis. According to the BBC article:

The researchers studied two groups of infants - a healthy control group and a group of children deemed to be at higher than normal risk of autism because they all had older siblings with the condition.

At 12 months, all of the 46 infants in control group passed the name test, responding on the first or second call of their own name, while only 86% of the 101 'at risk' infants passed. The University of California Davis, Sacramento, team followed 46 of the 'at risk' infants and 25 of the controls up to their second birthday.

Three-quarters of the 'at risk' children who had failed the name test were found to have developmental problems at the age of two.

Of the children who were later diagnosed with autism, half had failed the name test at one year, and of those who were identified as having any type of developmental delay, 39% had failed it.

This first part of the article, which is already being spread far and wide by the media, seems to suggest that an infant who does not turn when his name is called is most likely autistic. The second part of the article - which is equally important - is receiving much less airtime:
Aparna Nadig and colleagues had tried the name test on the children when they were only six months old, but found this was too young an age to get any meaningful result.

They stressed that if the name test were to be used routinely, it should not be relied on solely to diagnose autism - it merely indicates that a child may need more assessments.

Equally, a child who fails the test will not necessarily have autism.

However, one who fails repeatedly and consistently has a high likelihood of some type of developmental abnormality and should be referred for further checks and possibly early intervention, they said.

So...this research is NOT saying "if your six month old doesn't turn whenever his name is called, he's probably autistic." Instead, it is saying --
  • Wait until your child is at least a year old to start worrying.
  • Worry only if your child CONSISTENTLY does not respond to his name.
  • Have your child evaluated by a professional in pediatric development.
  • Follow up with appropriate treatment and/or interventions.
  • And... the fact that your child DOES respond to his name does not automatically mean that he is not autistic: the name test is not an "autism litmus test," but rather just one way to screen for a particular type of developmental difference.
    While this research study, in fact, does not suggest that there's a simple, easy test for autism - it's probable that the media hype will raise alarms in nurseries around the world. And, while the actual report makes it clear that children under 12 months are really too young to be diagnosed, it seems likely that plenty of parents will be calling their pediatrician when their six-month old seems to exhibit "autistic" symptoms.

    Does your child respond when her name is called? Was this an early sign of autism for a child you know or work with? What's your feeling about probable reaction to this new study?

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