Dylan Dyke, a 12-year-old boy with autism, spends time with his ducks, Nibbles, left, and Bill, outside his home in Michigan on Aug. 2, 2018. (Cory Morse/The Grand Rapids Press via AP)

Dylan Dyke, a 12-year-old boy with autism, spends time with his ducks, Nibbles, left, and Bill, outside his home in Michigan on Aug. 2, 2018. (Cory Morse/The Grand Rapids Press via AP)

Infants should be tested for autism if older siblings are diagnosed, Canadian study suggests

Blood test for infants with sibling who’s been diagnosed would get information to families earlier

Canadian researchers have led a study suggesting infants be tested for autism spectrum disorder before symptoms appear if an older sibling has already been diagnosed with the neurobiological condition.

The odds of a younger sibling having autism are up to 20 per cent, but most children miss out on early intervention for challenges in behaviour and communication because they’re often not diagnosed until age four, previous studies have shown.

Research by Dr. Stephen Scherer, senior scientist and director of the Centre for Applied Genomics at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, and Dr. Lonnie Zwaigenbaum, a professor of pediatrics at the University of Alberta, found a standard blood test analyzing the DNA of infants with a sibling who’s been diagnosed with autism would provide earlier information for families.

The findings were published Thursday in the journal Nature Communications.

They involve 288 infant siblings from Canada and the United States showing that by age three, 157 of the children were either diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder or developing atypically. Of the 157 children, seven per cent were carrying a gene that put them at a very high risk of developing autism.

RELATED: New study suggests autism overdiagnosed, Canadian expert says

Of the seven per cent of kids, 50 per cent were diagnosed with autism by age three and an additional 35 per cent had other developmental challenges.

Scherer said families of autistic children are often concerned about whether a sibling could also be at risk.

“It’s the number one question families have and no one’s ever wrapped any statistics around that and that’s what we present for the first time, with this paper,” he said.

Further genetic testing looking at the entire genome, beyond a blood test called microarray analysis, is being conducted with all the families in the study in hopes it will provide more information about the risk of autism, Scherer said.

The participants were part of the Baby Siblings Research Consortium, which includes independent research groups in Canada, the United States and Europe, though this study included 10 sites in North America, four of them in Canada, Zwaigenbaum said of the testing that is part of an ongoing decade-long research project looking at behavioural predictors of autism.

“Based on the findings of the study, we’re suggesting that the test be focused on younger siblings,” he said. “It could be informative at a time where we’re not likely to see any behavioural signs. So it provides an option for presymptomatic testing to identify infants at highest risk.”

READ MORE: Autism support dog refused bus access for being a ‘pet’

Families who are informed about a younger child’s risk of autism could initiate strategies to help them develop early communication skills before assessment of behaviour by a specialist and intervention by a therapist as part of a cost-effective approach to care, Zwaigenbaum said.

“I think we may be moving to an exciting new time where both biomarkers and developmental surveillance can provide complementary information to help us identify infants at risk.”

Camille Bains, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Just Posted

Sooke RCMP seized cocaine, ketamine, MDMA, prescription pills, $6,000 cash, a machete and pepper spray during a bust June 15. (Courtesy of Sooke RCMP)
Sooke RCMP seize drugs, machete, pepper spray

Man arrested near Evergreen Centre following drug deal

Sooke Fire Rescue firefighters evacuate an injured hiker on Mount Manuel Quimper in March 2021. Sooke will soon be moving to a new fire dispatch service. (Facebook – Sooke Fire Rescue)
Proposed fire dispatch deal could save Sooke thousands of dollars

New dispatch needed after Langford drops out of CRD service

Alex Fiset and Cooper Oakes, both Grade 4, running to the finish, raising money for the ALS Society of B.C. (Zoe Ducklow - Sooke News Mirror)
John Muir students rally for ALS support

‘Hey ALS. Nobody likes you!’ the students yelled

BC Housing has brought in sanitation trailers to the former Mount Tolmie Hospital site so its current residents can access clean water, showers, sinks and toilets after a collapsed sewer pipe impacted water service to the building. (Google Streetview)
Mount Tolmie Hospital homelessness shelter using sanitation trailers after pipe collapse

Travelodge shelter residents faced intermittent hot water supply in late May, early June

Al Kowalko drives Sooke School District’s first electric bus that began operation in May. The board decided on June 15 that all future buses will be electric, asking the province for more funding to support the program. (Zoe Ducklow/News Staff)
Sooke school board agrees to make all future buses electric

Board to ask province to increase funding to cover the extra up front cost

People line up to get their COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination centre, Thursday, June 10, 2021 in Montreal. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Vaccines, low COVID case counts increase Father’s Day hope, but risk is still there

Expert says people will have to do their own risk calculus before popping in on Papa

Syringes prepared with Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine are seen at a vaccination site in Long Beach, Calif., Friday, March 5, 2021. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
Vaccine first doses now available for walk-ins on Vancouver Island

People aged 18+ can walk in for their first COVID-19 vaccine

Photos displayed at a vigil for former Nanaimo outreach worker Amy Watts, whose body was found June 3 and whose death RCMP are investigating as a homicide. (News Bulletin photo)
‘We need to do better,’ says mother of woman killed in Nanaimo

Vigil held for former outreach worker Amy Watts, whose body was found downtown June 3

Thousands of protesters make their way through the downtown core during a Black Lives Matter protest in Ottawa, Friday June 5, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
MPs’ study of systemic racism in policing concludes RCMP needs new model

Chair of the House public safety committee says it’s time for a reckoning on ‘quasi-military’ structure

A case filled with packages of boneless chicken breasts is shown in a grocery store Sunday, May 10, 2020, in southeast Denver. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-David Zalubowski
One million chickens euthanized during labour dispute at Quebec slaughterhouse

Premier says waste amounts to 13 per cent of the province’s chicken production thrown in the garbage

Premier of Manitoba Brian Pallister speaks at a news conference at the Manitoba Legislative Building in Winnipeg on Wednesday, April 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/David Lipnowski
Provincial leaders want more federal money for health care, plan to meet in fall

Premiers ask Ottawa to increase its share of overall health spending to 35 per cent from 22 per cent

A section of the eastern slopes of the Canadian Rockies is seen west of Cochrane, Alta., Thursday, June 17, 2021. A joint federal-provincial review has denied an application for an open-pit coal mine in Alberta’s Rocky Mountains, saying its impacts on the environment and Indigenous rights aren’t worth the economic benefits it would bring. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Panel says Grassy Mountain coal mine in Alberta Rockies not in public interest

Public hearings on the project in southern Alberta’s Crowsnest Pass region were held last fall

The border crossing into the United States is seen during the COVID-19 pandemic in Lacolle, Que. on Friday, February 12, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
U.S. border restrictions to remain in place until at least July 21

Safety minister says Canada, U.S. extending restrictions on non-essential international travel

Most Read