Kennedy Krieger Institute today announced a new, pilot initiative to help identify the red flags of autism spectrum disorders (ASD) in infant siblings of children with ASD as early as possible. Research studies have found that for families who have one child with ASD, the chance of a subsequent sibling developing the disorder is one in five. The goal of this new initiative is to put a national spotlight on children most at risk -- infant siblings -- and to bring support and awareness to those families already affected by the disorder.
"In terms of screening for early diagnosis, a predisposition to autism should not be treated differently than a predisposition to cancer or diabetes," says Rebecca Landa, Ph.D., director, Center for Autism and Related Disorders at the Kennedy Krieger Institute. Beginning in April, Dr. Landa's team will provide free developmental assessments for infants between ages five to 10 months who have an older sibling diagnosed with ASD and live within a Mid-Atlantic five-state region or the District of Columbia.
Landa says, "If your mother had breast cancer, then you know you should get tested earlier and more frequently than someone without an elevated risk. The same is true for autism. The tracking of developmental milestones is critical for all children, but babies who are at increased risk for autism need to be monitored earlier and more often than the current screening recommendations for infants and toddlers."
While the overall incidence of autism is widely discussed, Kennedy Krieger is striving to educate families on siblings' increased risk and empower them to seek out a developmental expert in their area armed with this information.
"We've launched this initiative to increase the likelihood of identifying children most at risk so that families can seek help sooner and not miss out on early intervention, which can improve lifelong learning, communication and social skills," said Dr. Landa. "My hope is that our initiative encourages institutions and physicians across the country to provide this same type of support for families."
While children typically receive a diagnosis of ASD between ages two to four, researchers are discovering that the earliest signs of ASD can be detected in infants as young as six to 14 months of age. The earlier ASD is detected, the more effective early intervention can be in the life of a child.
The free developmental assessments will take place at the nationally renowned Center for Autism and Related Disorders at Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore, Maryland. Families living in Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia and the District of Columbia are currently eligible. To find out more, visit autism.kennedykrieger.org.
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