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Future Autism Diagnosis Linked to Early Medical Conditions

By Shana R. Spindler, Ph.D. on May 30, 2017
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Background: Early intervention for autism leads to fewer autism symptoms later in childhood. Unfortunately, autism diagnosis usually doesn’t occur until after three years of age. To improve time to therapy, researchers are looking for clues to diagnose autism as early as possible.


What’s new: In a large medical record study of 3,911 children with autism, researchers found that 38 medical conditions were associated with a future autism diagnosis. Medical conditions that showed the strongest link to autism included:


  • Language delays
  • Learning and cognitive disorders
  • Global delays (significant delay in two or more areas of development)
  • Motor delays
  • Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Cerebral palsy
  • Epilepsy and recurrent seizures
  • Disorders of the central nervous system

A combination of language delay with global delay most strongly correlated with an autism diagnosis. In total, the researchers identified 14 combinations of medical conditions that were associated with a future autism diagnosis.


Why it’s important: This study offers evidence that early life medical conditions could help doctors identify children who need close follow-up for autism assessment. Many of these medical conditions appear a year or more before autism symptoms become apparent.

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