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Can Autism be Detected at 18 Months?

The Needle, the Haystack, and the CHAT

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  02 January 2018

Simon Baron-Cohen*
Departments of Psychology and Child Psychiatry, Institute of Psychiatry, University of London, De Crespigny Park, London SE5 8AF
Jane Allen
Wimbledon Village Practice, 35a High St, Wimbledon, London SW19 5BY
Christopher Gillberg
Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Child Neuropsychiatric Clinic, University of Gothenburg, S-413 45, Gothenburg, Sweden


Autism is currently detected only at about three years of age. This study aimed to establish if detection of autism was possible at 18 months of age. We screened 41 18–month-old toddlers who were at high genetic risk for developing autism, and 50 randomly selected 18–month-olds, using a new instrument, the CHAT, administered by GPs or health visitors. More than 80% of the randomly selected 18–month-old toddlers passed on all items, and none failed on more than one of pretend play, protodeclarative pointing, joint-attention, social interest, and social play. Four children in the high-risk group failed on two or more of these five key types of behaviour. At follow-up at 30 months of age, the 87 children who had passed four or more of these key types of behaviour at 18 months of age had continued to develop normally. The four toddlers who had failed on two or more of these key types of behaviour at 18 months received a diagnosis of autism by 30 months.

Brief Reports
Copyright © 1992 The Royal College of Psychiatrists 

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