There could be a relatively simple way to spot young children at risk for autism: look closely at their medical records.

New research suggests that kids who are later diagnosed with autism or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder have noticeably more doctor and hospital visits during their first year of life as compared to children without the conditions.

The findings come from a study published recently in the journal Scientific Reports.

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“This study provides evidence that children who develop autism and ADHD are on a different path from the beginning,” said Matthew Engelhard, a senior research associate at Duke University and the lead author of the paper. “We have known that children with these diagnoses have more interactions with the health care system after they’ve been diagnosed, but this indicates that distinctive patterns of utilization begin early in these children’s lives. This could provide an opportunity to intervene sooner.”

The study is based on a review of 10 years of electronic medical records for almost 30,000 kids, each of whom had at least two check-ups before age 1.

Children ultimately diagnosed with autism, ADHD or both tended to have longer hospital stays at birth, the study found. Those with autism had more procedures like intubation and ventilation and made more visits to specialists like eye doctors and physical therapists. Kids with ADHD had a higher number of procedures like blood transfusions and were more often visiting the emergency room and admitted to the hospital.

The patterns in doctor and hospital utilization could help identify children with autism and ADHD at younger ages, researchers said. That’s significant, since treatments for the conditions are most effective the earlier they begin.

“We are hopeful that these early utilization patterns can eventually be combined with other sources of data to build automated surveillance tools to help parents and pediatricians identify which kids will benefit most from early assessment and treatment,” said Scott Kollins, a clinical psychologist at Duke who worked on the study.