Dylan Dyke, a 12-year-old boy with autism, spends time with his ducks, Nibbles, left, and Bill, outside his home in Michigan on Aug. 2, 2018. (Cory Morse/The Grand Rapids Press via AP)

Dylan Dyke, a 12-year-old boy with autism, spends time with his ducks, Nibbles, left, and Bill, outside his home in Michigan on Aug. 2, 2018. (Cory Morse/The Grand Rapids Press via AP)

Infants should be tested for autism if older siblings are diagnosed, Canadian study suggests

Blood test for infants with sibling who’s been diagnosed would get information to families earlier

Canadian researchers have led a study suggesting infants be tested for autism spectrum disorder before symptoms appear if an older sibling has already been diagnosed with the neurobiological condition.

The odds of a younger sibling having autism are up to 20 per cent, but most children miss out on early intervention for challenges in behaviour and communication because they’re often not diagnosed until age four, previous studies have shown.

Research by Dr. Stephen Scherer, senior scientist and director of the Centre for Applied Genomics at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, and Dr. Lonnie Zwaigenbaum, a professor of pediatrics at the University of Alberta, found a standard blood test analyzing the DNA of infants with a sibling who’s been diagnosed with autism would provide earlier information for families.

The findings were published Thursday in the journal Nature Communications.

They involve 288 infant siblings from Canada and the United States showing that by age three, 157 of the children were either diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder or developing atypically. Of the 157 children, seven per cent were carrying a gene that put them at a very high risk of developing autism.

RELATED: New study suggests autism overdiagnosed, Canadian expert says

Of the seven per cent of kids, 50 per cent were diagnosed with autism by age three and an additional 35 per cent had other developmental challenges.

Scherer said families of autistic children are often concerned about whether a sibling could also be at risk.

“It’s the number one question families have and no one’s ever wrapped any statistics around that and that’s what we present for the first time, with this paper,” he said.

Further genetic testing looking at the entire genome, beyond a blood test called microarray analysis, is being conducted with all the families in the study in hopes it will provide more information about the risk of autism, Scherer said.

The participants were part of the Baby Siblings Research Consortium, which includes independent research groups in Canada, the United States and Europe, though this study included 10 sites in North America, four of them in Canada, Zwaigenbaum said of the testing that is part of an ongoing decade-long research project looking at behavioural predictors of autism.

“Based on the findings of the study, we’re suggesting that the test be focused on younger siblings,” he said. “It could be informative at a time where we’re not likely to see any behavioural signs. So it provides an option for presymptomatic testing to identify infants at highest risk.”

READ MORE: Autism support dog refused bus access for being a ‘pet’

Families who are informed about a younger child’s risk of autism could initiate strategies to help them develop early communication skills before assessment of behaviour by a specialist and intervention by a therapist as part of a cost-effective approach to care, Zwaigenbaum said.

“I think we may be moving to an exciting new time where both biomarkers and developmental surveillance can provide complementary information to help us identify infants at risk.”

Camille Bains, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Nanaimo Ladysmith Public Schools’ district administration centre. (News Bulletin file)
Nanaimo-Ladysmith school district gets started on new budget amid unknowns

Ministry’s per-student funding increase doesn’t fully cover pay raises for teachers and support staff

Nanaimo Ladysmith Public Schools. (News Bulletin file photo)
Nanaimo school district reports COVID-19 case at Fairview Elementary

April 9 exposure the fourth case reported in SD68 since spring break

The old career resource centre, formerly Quennell School, was demolished last week. (Photo courtesy Erik Warners)
Old career centre and school demolished in Nanaimo’s Old City Quarter

School district says building was decaying and was unsuitable for use

Nanaimo Fire Rescue’s two new pumper trucks, slated to be delivered in the fall, will have battery-powered idle-reduction technology. (News Bulletin file photo)
Nanaimo’s newest fire trucks will come with idle-reduction technology

Pumper trucks arriving from U.S.-based manufacturer will use battery power to save fuel

A raccoon prowls near a porch in north Nanaimo last fall. (News Bulletin file photo)
LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Attack on dog shows raccoons can be nasty creatures

We had to take our black lab to the emergency vet for treatment, says letter writer

The old career resource centre, formerly Quennell School, was demolished last week. (Photo courtesy Erik Warners)
Old career centre and school demolished in Nanaimo’s Old City Quarter

School district says building was decaying and was unsuitable for use

AstraZeneca vaccine is becoming available at B.C. pharmacies outside the Lower Mainland, as of Friday, April 9. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Frank Augstein
Immunization program expands to five Nanaimo pharmacies

Residents 55-65-year-old can get their first dose of AstraZeneca vaccine

RCMP crest. (Black Press Media files)
UPDATE: RCMP investigating after child, 6, dies at motel in Duncan, B.C.

The BC Coroners Service is conducting its own investigation into the circumstances around the child’s death

RCMP display some of the fish seized from three suspects who pleaded guilty to violating the Fisheries Act in 2019, in this undated handout photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO - RCMP
3 banned from fishing, holding licences after overfishing violations near Vancouver Island

Mounties seized the group’s 30-foot fishing vessel and all equipment on board at the time

B.C. Premier John Horgan responds to questions during a postelection news conference in Vancouver, on Sunday, October 25, 2020. British Columbia’s opposition Liberals and Greens acknowledge the COVID-19 pandemic has presented huge challenges for Horgan’s government, but they say Monday’s throne speech must outline a coherent plan for the province’s economic, health, social and environmental future. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Horgan’s NDP to bring in throne speech in B.C., Opposition wants coherent plan

Farnworth said the budget will include details of government investment in communities and infrastructure

Firefighters, including those from Cranberry volunteer department, are battling a blaze in the Nanaimo River Road area. (Chris Bush/News Bulletin)
Dwelling destroyed, two taken to hospital after Nanaimo River Road blaze

Firefighers arrived to find dwelling and garage fully engulfed in flame at property south of Nanaimo

People walk past the Olympic rings in Whistler, B.C., Friday, May 15, 2020. Whistler which is a travel destination for tourists around the world is seeing the effects of travel bans due to COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Adults living, working in Whistler, B.C., eligible for COVID-19 vaccine on Monday

The move comes as the province deals with a rush of COVID-19 and variant cases in the community

Most Read