Autism. For parents with young children, just the word itself can send a shiver down the spine. The developmental disorder occurs in one in 150 young children in the U.S. ... affecting the brain's normal development of social and communication skills. In order to obtain a diagnosis, children often must undergo months of testing from a series of doctors and health specialists, with the average diagnosis occurring when children are around 5 years of age. But what if there were a way for parents to find out more quickly ... and earlier on in their child's development?  

A new device has recently hit the market that hopes to achieve these two goals. The LAS (Language Autism Screen) from LENA is a small, digital language recorder that a child could wear in specially designed overalls. On the recording day, you dress your child in the LENA overalls, turn on and insert the recorder in the pocket, and record 12 to 16 hours of your child’s daily vocalizations. The next day you send the recorder and paperwork back to LENA for processing. Within two weeks you will receive a packet of information analyzing your child's vocalizations and language patters and indicating the likelihood that your child is autism. The assessment is designed for children 24 to 48 months of age.

Sounds good, right? So why are so many autism specialists so upset? According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, diagnosis of autism at age of 2 "can be reliable, valid, and stable." But many experts are worried that the potential for a false positive on this test could send many parents spiraling down a path of unnecessary anxiety (for parents) and treatments (for children) that are harmful to everyone.

Dr. Susan Anderson, director of the Autism Clinic at the University of Virginia Children's Hospital, voiced her concern about the LAPS test in a story on ABC news, saying that specialists are looking at communication, not just spoken words during a professional autism screening. "Autism is not only a disorder of verbal communication (which is both delayed and disordered) but is also a disorder of non-verbal communication, a disorder of social development (including play skills) and interactional skills, and a disorder which includes atypical behaviors," said Anderson. "Any means of screening for autism needs to include all of these measures." 

So what do you think? Does the at-home autism detector offer parents a beneficial medical tool or a recipe for disaster?

Photo courtesy of  LENA

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