Study suggests infants be tested for autism if older siblings diagnosed

VANCOUVER — 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.

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. “What we’re arguing is that 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.”

Families who are informed about a younger child’s risk of autism could initiate strategies to help children 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.”

Further research could lead to a change in practice recommending siblings be given the readily available test for autism, he said.

The study also found that children did not necessarily inherit or share all the genetic variants with an older sibling with autism, which is consistent with previous research.

Long wait lists for assessment of children exhibiting signs of autism is a major concern among families across Canada, and both Scherer and Zwaigenbaum acknowledged that is problematic.

“It’s not happening fast enough but we can’t hold back the science because of it,” Scherer said.

“The current system doesn’t have the capacity to respond but (the study) definitely moves the needle in terms of the potential to develop strategies that could be applied presymptomatically,” Zwaigenbaum said. “It really further accelerates the move to earlier and earlier intervention.”

Just Posted

Contributed photo
Johanna Hannaford: Central Alberta designer offers inclusive clothing

By Stephanie Rhodes Local designer Johanna Hannaford’s inclusive clothing creations are smashing… Continue reading

Red life-ring with splash
Started from the bottom: How a family business started and grew in central Alberta

By Carina Moran We started our business in the basement of our… Continue reading

Shiree Appleman
Innisfail RCMP looking for missing woman

Innisfail RCMP is asking the public to help locate a woman who… Continue reading

Rotary Club of Red Deer logo.
Red Deer Rotary Club hosting tree planting event later this month

The Rotary Club of Red Deer will host a tree-planting event later… Continue reading

New admissions have been suspended for Engineering Technology diplomas (Instrumentation, Electrical and Mechanical) and the Transitional Vocational Program at Red Deer College. (Photo by Sean McIntosh/Advocate staff)
Developmentally disabled impacted: Red Deer College suspends program

Transitional Vocational Program comes to an end

Bo’s Bar and Grill owner Brennen Wowk said the hospitality industry is looking for more clarity from the province around what conditions must be met to allow for restaurants reopening. (Advocate file photo)
Frustated restaurant owners want to know government’s reopening plan

Restaurant owners feel they are in lockdown limbo

Welcoming cowboy boots at the historic and colourful Last Chance Saloon in the ghost town of Wayne near Drumheller, Alta., on Thursday, Sept. 19, 2019. The bar and hotel are up for sale. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
‘It was a going concern’: Remaining bar and hotel in Alberta coal ghost town for sale

WAYNE, Alta. — Built during the First World War, it survived the… Continue reading

A letter from a bottle that washed up in New Brunswick in 2017 is shown in an undated handout photo. A team of researchers from Université du Québec à Rimouski are trying to solve the mystery of whether a letter in a bottle that washed up in New Brunswick in 2017 was indeed from a young victim of Titanic shipwreck or simply a hoax. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, N. Beaudry, UQAR *MANDATORY CREDIT*
Real or hoax? Quebec scholars probe mystery letter allegedly from Titanic passenger

MONTREAL — Researchers from Université du Québec à Rimouski are trying to… Continue reading

Minister of Transport Marc Garneau takes part in a press conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, Nov. 26, 2019. Advocates, experts and opposition MPs say correspondence showing close communication between the federal Transport Department and the Canadian Transportation Agency regarding passenger refunds throws into question the independence of the CTA, an arm’s-length body. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Emails reveal close communication between government, transport regulator on refunds

OTTAWA — Advocates, experts and opposition MPs say correspondence showing close communication… Continue reading

Pharmacist Barbara Violo shows off a vial of the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine in Toronto on Friday, March 12, 2021. Several family doctors and physician associations across Canada say they welcome questions from anyone concerned about second doses of Oxford-AstraZeneca or any other COVID-19 vaccine. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Family doctors say they can answer vaccine questions, after Trudeau recommends them

Several family doctors and physician associations across Canada say they welcome questions… Continue reading

The Olympic rings float in the water at sunset in the Odaiba section of Tokyo, Wednesday, June 3, 2020. A new Leger poll suggests Canadians are divided over plans to send athletes from Canada to the upcoming Olympic games in Tokyo as Japan grapples with climbing COVID-19 cases. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Eugene Hoshiko
Canadians divided on sending Team Canada athletes to the Tokyo Olympic Games: poll

OTTAWA — A new poll by Leger and the Association of Canadian… Continue reading

Harley Hay
Harley Hay: Insert your name here

Back in the Paleolithic Era when a McDonald’s cheeseburger was 29 cents… Continue reading

Black Press file photo
Job search: Write a request that will get accepted

Last Thursday, when I logged into LinkedIn, I had nine connection requests… Continue reading

T-shirt with vaccine shot. (Contributed photo)
Letter: Hand out T-shirts with vaccine shots

I made myself a graphic T-shirt recently after getting my vaccine shot.… Continue reading

Most Read