A simple 24-item checklist may help physicians identify children with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) as early as 1-year old, triggering earlier and potentially more effective treatment. The checklist can be completed by parents or caregivers in 5 minutes and scored in less than 2 minutes by medical staff.

In a new pilot study published online in the Journal of Pediatrics, nearly 10,500 babies were screened by the checklist which covers three areas: social and emotional communication, receptive and expressive speech, and symbolic behavior. Of those infants, 184 failed the screen and were further evaluated and tracked.

Of those 184, researchers claimed that 32 received a provisional or final diagnosis of ASDs, 56 were diagnosed with language delays (5 of which ended up being false positives), 9 were diagnosed with developmental delays, and 36 were diagnosed with “other” deficits. The remaining 46 infants were false positives.

While such a program needs further evaluation and long-term follow-up, the take home message is clear: pediatricians can play a significant role in identifying children with possible ASD at a very young age, prompting earlier diagnosis and treatment—a critical factor in the management of developmental disorders.