A researcher from Australia’s La Trobe University in Melbourne has teamed up with a Chinese city to implement an early detection marker program to diagnose autism in children under the age of two.
Dr Josephine Barbaro has researched a set of social, communication and behavioural markers which she believes can lead to early detection in children with a pre disposition to autism.
In a recent interview with radio channel Asia Pacific she claimed that experts in the field were already aware of these markers, but that there were very few screening tools in place to aid with detection in children so young.
“We designed a program called the social attention and communication surveillance study and we trained maternal and child health nurses to monitor these very early markers in very young children, from one to two years of age.”
The province of Tianjin in Northern China has agreed to implement the screening tool on every child born there within the next seven years. Annually there are around 100,000 babies born in the province. There is still some social stigma to have a child born with a diagnosis such as autism, especially in China.
“These sample sizes that we can have for research are huge, so it’s fantastic for research.
It’s also fantastic…for family so that we can actually work together with families and try and identify children early.So we can begin early intervention. Autism was not recognised as an official diagnosis until 2006 and there has been a history, and obviously still continues to be a history, of there being this stigma surrounding autism or just disability in general.”
If we can try and work together to decrease the stigma and show that children with autism can lead quite fulfilling lives, many of them lead very independent lives.”
The surveillance program that we have developed and implemented has gained a lot of interest from these Asian countries, because they can see that actually it’s something that they could use and utilise and at very low cost.”
Dr Barbao hopes to train and educate more medical practitioners in Asia, including Bangladesh, Korea and Japan in the near future.