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In autism, age at diagnosis depends on specific symptoms

The age at which a child with autism is diagnosed is related to the particular suite of behavioral symptoms he or she exhibits, new research from UW-Madison shows.

Certain diagnostic features, including poor nonverbal communication and repetitive behaviors, were associated with earlier identification of an autism spectrum disorder, according to a study in the April issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. Displaying more behavioral features was also associated with earlier diagnosis.

One challenge is that autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are extremely diverse. According to the criteria outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders Fourth Edition — Text Revision (DSM-IV-TR), the standard handbook used for classification of psychiatric disorders, there are more than 600 different symptom combinations that meet the minimum criteria for diagnosing autistic disorder, one subtype of ASD.

In the study population, the median age at diagnosis (the age by which half the children were diagnosed) was 8.2 years for children with only seven of the listed behavioral features but dropped to just 3.8 years for children with all 12 of the symptoms.

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