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Autism Researchers Develop most Effective Early Screening Tool for Children

Australian researchers developed a screening tool which is the world’s most effective tool for diagnosing children who are on the Autism spectrum. The study was published in JAMA Open medical journalThe average age of an Autism diagnosis in Australia is between four and five years old. Still, the  SACS tools developed at Melbourne’s La Trobe University cuts that by more than half to the average age at diagnosis of 21 months.

Josephine Barbaro, associate professor who developed the tool as part of her PhD 15 years ago, said a diagnosis allowed families to access more support, services and therapies.Dr Barbaro said that means that their developmental outcomes are improved, their cognition and their language is improved and they also have greater participation in schooling. Findings from a five-year study of more than 13,500 Victorian children, found the tool to be the world’s most effective method of diagnosing Autism in young children.

Ayoub Ayoub was identified as being at higher risk of Autism using the SACS tool when he was 15 months old and was formally diagnosed at 22 months. Every Victorian child attending a routine health check at 12, 18 and 24 months is already screened using the SACS-R tool, after the Victorian government funded training for maternal and child health nurses in 2019.

The added SACS-Preschool tool can be used at the 3.5-year health check to increase the effectiveness of the identification process – though training for that is not currently funded in Victoria. The tool is also used in some other parts of Australia, as well as in 10 other countries, including Nepal and Bangladesh, but additional funding could see it rolled out more widely.

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