Toddler with eyes raised

Researchers at Murdoch Children's Research Institute have discovered that toddlers who later go on to be diagnosed with autism use fewer gestures, in findings that may revolutionise the way in which Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is screened.

Early identification and intervention is crucial in managing ASD but until now it has been difficult to diagnose children with the disorder until the age of three or older.

As part of the Early Language in Victoria Study (ELVS), conducted at Murdoch Children's, the early developmental skills and behaviour of 1900 children at key ages were measured including those of 45 children diagnosed with ASD between the ages of three and seven years.

Lead researcher and speech pathologist Carly Veness said that the decreased use of gestures, like pointing, showing, giving, and waving, at 24 months of age, was the main characteristic that differentiated children with ASD from all other groups of children.

"By analysing the amount of communicative gestures used by children studied, we were able to differentiate children later diagnosed with ASD from children with other forms of language impairment or developmental delay, as well as typically developing children."

"Our study showed there was a pattern of low gesture use for children with ASD between the ages of 8 months, up to 24 months. As early as eight months of age, early communication gestures differentiated children with ASD from some of the other children," Ms Veness said.

The results of the study could revolutionise the way ASD is screened for and provide better outcomes for children with ASD through early intervention programs.

"We hope further research into low gesture use and the types of gestures used will lead to earlier detection and diagnosis of the condition to ensure the children receive the specialist early intervention services they need to get the best start in life," Ms Veness said.