App helps parents detect autism signs in babies

baby playing

Parents are often anxious to know their child is meeting developmental milestones – and now there’s a new app that helps look for early signs of potential problems.

Experts have developed an app they say can detect signs a child is on the autism spectrum or has other development delays from as young as eight months old. The EARLYthree app, for iPhone and iPad, lets parents record their child’s behaviour at regular intervals.

It’s been co-developed by child development experts at New Jersey’s Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School Autism Center. Founding director Dr Michael Lewis says it will allow parents to raise concerns with their doctor and describes it as a “breakthrough for parents and paediatricians”.

“Early signs of autism often go undetected simply because there are not enough physicians around the world to screen the growing number of children with autism,” Dr Lewis tells the International Center for Autism Research and Education. “An ideal time to identify early signs of autism is when a child is six to eight months old, although symptoms may appear any time during the first three years.”

Dr Lewis says the app is the culmination of 50 years of research into child development. It comprises sets of yes-or-no questions about behavioural and communicative development for parents to answer when their child is eight, 12, 15, 18, 24 and 36 months. For example, does your child turn around to look at you when his or her name is called, or imitate you when you clap hands or wave goodbye? The results are shown in a band of green, yellow or red, indicating whether the child has no signs of autism, should be monitored or should seek further medical advice.

According to Autism Spectrum Australia, about one in 100 people – almost 230,000 Australians – have autism. It affects almost four times as many boys as girls. The organisation also has an Early Years Checklist to look for indicators of autism spectrum disorder in children aged 12 months to two years.

Michelle Rose

Michelle Rose

Michelle is a journalist and mum to two girls who are obsessed with dinosaurs, fairies, pirates and princesses in equal measure. She lives in Melbourne's east with her husband, daughters and a giant, untameable labradoodle. Michelle loves all things vegetarian, wine (it's a fruit) and online shopping.

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