PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – There’s a potential breakthrough regarding autism.

Doctors might now be able to tell if a child has autism before they’re born.

Making a diagnosis of autism depends on signs and symptoms as a child grows and develops.

“Right now, we consider an early diagnosis made anywhere between 18 months and 3 years of age. Making a diagnosis before 18 months of age is really, really difficult. I don’t think anyone is making the diagnosis of autism before 18 months of age. However, you can find red flags before 18 months,” CHP Developmental Pediatrician Dr. Diego Chaves-Gnecco said.

Even as a baby, not making eye contact, not turning when their name is called, not pointing to needs — these are red flags.

But, what if you could tell even before birth?

Researchers in Scotland are working on this.

In their studies, they found as early as 20 weeks gestation, head and abdomen sizes are larger in the fetuses that grew into children later diagnosed with autism.

“The earlier we make the diagnosis, the more intensive the services are being received. That makes a difference,” Dr. Chaves-Gnecco said.

Services like physical, occupational, speech and behavioral therapy.

The study included 40 children diagnosed with autism, compared to 120 who were not.

This type of study can only show associations, but not cause and effect.

Of course, just having a large head as a fetus does not mean you will definitely have autism as a child.

“I don’t think you can make the diagnosis of autism with just measures,” Dr. Chaves-Gnecco said. “You can have a large head for many reasons. Families might have large heads.”

Prenatal care and pediatric care are important, so that any hints of something wrong can be followed.

These preliminary findings were presented at a professional conference, but have not yet been published in a peer-reviewed journal.

The gist of these findings is that perhaps, someday, there will be a prenatal measure to guide testing for the earliest possible diagnosis and intervention.

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Dr. Maria Simbra