New research suggests that a quick questionnaire may be highly accurate at flagging children for autism.

In 88 percent of cases, the so-called Psychological Development Questionnaire, or PDQ-1, correctly identified kids on the spectrum. The results held for children across all socioeconomic backgrounds, according to findings published recently in the Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics.

The two-minute screening tool asks parents whether their child points, gestures, responds to their name, relates to others and enjoys playing peek-a-boo, among other questions.

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For the study, parents of 1,959 children ages 18 to 36 months with no known developmental issues were screened using the method during pediatrics visits at clinics in New Jersey.

Children who scored low on the questionnaire received more comprehensive developmental evaluations.

“Even though autism awareness is high in New Jersey and we have some excellent resources, too many children, especially from low-income communities, are identified late. The availability of valid and efficient screeners, like the PDQ-1, may enhance our ability to detect ASD in young children and expand the number of youngsters receiving early intervention,” said Walter Zahorodny, an associate professor of pediatrics at Rutgers University who led the study.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that all children be screened for autism at 18 and 24 months. However, many kids on the spectrum continue to be diagnosed at later ages.

The most current version of the Modified Checklist for Autism in Toddlers, which is often used to screen children, requires a follow-up interview in some cases. The results of the current study could provide preliminary evidence that the PDQ-1 may ultimately prove a quicker alternative, Zahorodny said.

“Diagnosis of autism can only be accomplished through comprehensive evaluation by a professional,” Zahorodny said. “Effective screening is but the first step toward diagnosis. If we want to improve early detection, easy-to-use and reliable autism screeners need to be widely used.”

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