The following is a summary of the “Prediction of autism in infants: progress and challenges,” published in the March 2022 issue of Neurology by Dawson, et al.

Autism, or autism spectrum disorder, is a neurodevelopmental illness usually identified in infants and toddlers between 18 and 24 months. Predicting autism and understanding its early course of development are 2 goals of the prospective longitudinal studies of infants aged 1 year and younger who are later diagnosed with autism. 

Brain imaging, electroencephalography, and near-infrared spectroscopy studies have shown that autistic children develop differently from typically developing children at the same age. Sleep issues, gastrointestinal abnormalities, and vision impairments have all been found to be more common among infants less than 1 year who were later diagnosed with autism in retrospective research. In addition, infants with autism have been found to display a wide range of behavioral traits, including those related to attention, vocalizations, gestures, affect, temperament, social interaction, sensory processing, and motor skills. 

Recent studies have shed light on effective screening methods for identifying autistic traits in neonates, although accurate predictions at the individual level remain a future objective. The translation of research on early brain-based and behavioral markers of autism into feasible and reliable screening methods for clinical practice faces several scientific obstacles and ethical problems.