Early detection of autism within the community — in the home, at daycare or during well child visits, for example — is critical to increasing access to early intervention services. But surprisingly, there are just a few tools that can reliably identify the broad range of behavioral markers within the general population of infants younger than 16 months old that may elevate their likelihood for a diagnosis of autism later in childhood.

A new study published in Autism Research not only confirms one tool’s conceptual model of autism risk during infancy, it also highlights domains that appear particularly different among those infants who would later receive an autism diagnosis by the age of 3.

“Autism screening tools often focus on social–communication risk signs, such as the lack of joint attention, language or pretend play, but looking at the social–communication domain alone can be a hindrance in very early detection,” said Grace Baranek, PhD, OTR/L, the article’s lead author and associate dean and chair of the USC Chan Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy.

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