Booster Shots

Oddities, musings and news from the health world

« Previous Post | Booster Shots Home | Next Post »

Autism signs appear in babies' first year, but parents don't notice, study finds

February 23, 2010 |  5:15 pm

The social disengagement that is the hallmark of autism-spectrum disorders begins to appear in the second half of a baby's first year of life, according to a new study. But California researchers found that parents typically do not notice the decline in their child's behavior until well into his or her second year. 

The study, published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, is among the first to glean the pattern of autism's emergence in very young children by following babies from the age of 6 months. At that age, babies who would go on to be diagnosed as autistic and babies who would develop typically showed no significant differences in social behaviors, including smiling, making eye contact and vocalizing responsively.

The study calls into question the bases on which much early speculation about and research on autism and its causes have been based: parental observation. For starters, the study found little to support the observations of some parents that their baby showed symptoms of extreme social disengagement from birth. But it also cast doubt on the accuracy of parents' reports that their baby's descent into autism was sudden and dramatic.

In its detailed comparison of 50 babies — half of whom would go on to be diagnosed with autism — the researchers found a steady loss of sociability and responsiveness in the babies who would progress to an autism diagnosis. Those babies' loss of social skills looked more like regression and less like a slowing of progress that allowed normally developing babies to pull far ahead of them. And that regression was most marked between 6 and 18 months, though it continued more gradually to the 3-year mark, where the study left off.

But while the reduced rates of face-gazing, vocalizations and social engagement were evident to researchers who systematically evaluated the babies every six months, 83% of the parents did not observe the changes chronicled by researchers — not, at least, in the first year they were happening.

In an accompanying editorial, Tony Charman, an autism researcher at London's Institute of Education, expressed surprise that so few parents of children who would go on to be diagnosed with autism observed the changes in their babies. That is especially unexpected because the babies considered to be at high risk of developing autism came into the trial because they had an older sibling who already had been diagnosed with autism-spectrum disorder. Since parents enrolling a baby in such a trial generally recognize his or her higher risk of autism, "we might expect worried parents to be hypervigilant for early signs that something is not right with their younger child," Charman wrote. 

Do you wonder if your child's social development is on track? Look here for normal developmental milestones and red flags for autism-spectrum disorders. 

— Melissa Healy

Post a comment
If you are under 13 years of age you may read this message board, but you may not participate.
Here are the full legal terms you agree to by using this comment form.

Comments are moderated, and will not appear until they've been approved.

If you have a TypeKey or TypePad account, please Sign In

Comments (12)

I sure this won't be one of your approved comments since it doesn't support big pharma, but has anyone drawn the simple conclusion that babies don't start getting their vaccinations until 6 months and that maybe those with very low tolerence to ingredients such as thimerisol(mercury) or aluminum contained in those vaccines is the real cause.

Lets not forget these drug companies will do ANYTHING to keep their profits rolling in including hiding information from the public and paying off the FDA to give them carte blanch, like the one the Senate Finance Committe found guilty today:

Let's connect the dots and protect our children.....They are our future, remember?

I believe this study is more proof of the toxic effects of vaccines on babies and their ability to cause autism after the child has received a number of them than it is a study to refute claims of regressive autism.
Maurine Meleck, South carolina

Of course, it's still the parent's fault (those hysterical parents didn't even notice! Their stories of sudden regression are obviously faulty!).

Whatever . . . wonder how much $$$ the "American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry" takes in every year from the pharma industry?

Most parent's didn't notice regression within the first year? This is crazy! How many people can dx a child w/ autism prior to 18 months? What was the percentage of parents that noticed or became worried at 18 and 24 months?

Also, how many children do these parents have? If this is only their second child, which would be safe to assume given the birth rate in CA, they don't know what "normal" development looks like.

So now the study is going to call into question parental observations? Give me a break, who knows the child best? Maybe what researchers need to do, is try to understand what parents are communicating from the parents perspective. Take into account a parent's experience. We all talk about the terrible 2's. We'll imagine raising a young child w/ autism when they hit the 2 mark. Anyhow, that's enough ranting for now.

I am trying this again as my first post did not go up.
I believe this study is more proof of vaccine damage than its effort to prove that autism is completely genetic and all children are born with it.
maurine meleck

I am trying this again as my first post did not go up.
I believe this study is more proof of vaccine damage than its effort to prove that autism is completely genetic and all children are born with it.
maurine meleck

Interesting. I started voicing concerns to my pediatrician about my child's development when he was 6 months old, but my concerns were never taken seriously. By the time I KNEW he had autism (19 months), our pediatrician (different from the first) thought I was an over-concerned mother.

I'm sure there are a lot of parents who don't recognize the signs, but I also think there are a lot of parents who, like us, have concerns but are reassured by doctors that nothing is wrong.

Both of my children are on the autism spectrum.

There is a discernable difference in learning uptake rate (in fact, they actually go backwards) in Autistic children at 6months of age, based on close observation of three controls and one afflicted boy. Not a huge population in the study, but it was definitely observed - by me.

The disengagement from birth is horrifically untrue. The autistic child in my experience actually paced the three controls for the first several months in learning uptake, eye contact, and expressions, and in fact was sometimes confused with his same-aged siblings in behavior.

Finally, we have a peer-reviewed study that gets it right!

After six months, he was observed to go backwards in development by almost three months (the regression the study mentions was observed in many behaviors) and then got "stuck" there for may months thereafter.

His subsequent forward pace was approximately 1 month per year thereafter. He's 14 now.

Bonnie... the point of this is not to blame the parents. It's to point out that signs of autism are present early in life so that we can better understand the disorder. There is no need to be afraid of knowledge -- cozy lies are far more dangerous.

Controlled studies are an important means of separating fact from impression. Parents "know their child best," but are also swayed by emotions, fears, and prejudices about their children. Parents may be inclined to panic, or to see their child as perfect. This is not a shot at parents -- it is a simple matter of reality. Having a child does not make a parent an expert on autism any more than owning a car makes me an expert on combustion engines. While their opinion and experience is important, studies like this remind us that these things need to be interpreted in proper context.

The timing of Autism's onset is doubly important, particularly when entire fleets of well-meaning but otherwise misguided parents have been struggling to lay the blame on vaccines for years. With the media continuing to report the concern as a legitimate debate (along with evolution and global warming), medical researchers have been compelled to waste countless dollars and man-hours on this goose chase.

The study calls into question the bases on which much early speculation about and research on autism and its causes have been based

How did we start talking about baseball?

Wow, Bonnie. Fly off the handles much? Parents don't know everything about their kids. Neither do the scientists. That's why they are working together to find an answer and a solution. Attacking them for doing something is extremely arrogant and rude. Nobody is perfect so I'll forgive you but don't attack a group that is trying to make a difference and help a lot of families.

I have to applaud the researchers in this study. Studying autism in the present social climate is challenging at best, considering that many of the people in our society appear to have neatly divided thinkers about this disease into (1) stooges of "Big Pharma" and (2) Jenny McCarthy.

How this has happened escapes me. Answers about autism will only be found by careful and rigorous research into its every aspect, and I cannot understand why any parent of an autistic child would not want more research to be done. The attitude seems to be that anyone who even mildly questions the doctrine that vaccines cause autism spectrum disorders is to be excoriated with whatever ad hominem attacks come first to mind. This attitude will not help your children or, indeed, any children at all.

Perhaps there is some connection of some vaccines to some cases of autism. I don't know. But I do know that there are other causes of the autistic phenotype: Landau-Kleffner, Fragile X, Prader-Willi, argininosuccinate lyase deficiency, certain mitochondrial disorders, etc. Yet I don't see people on talk shows demanding that their children be screened for abnormal EEG activity. No one is trying to raise awareness of the underestimated prevalence of mitochondrial diseases. True, these disorders likely do not account for more than 5% of autism, but shouldn't we be looking more in this direction so that perhaps we can characterize more such causes. Perhaps then we really can help some of these kids.


The Latest | news as it happens

Recent Posts
test |  March 15, 2011, 4:00 pm »
Booster Shots has moved |  July 12, 2010, 6:02 pm »