New studies suggest that a simple, harmless “sniff” test could lead to diagnosing autism in children. Researchers have found a correlation between the olfactory sense in young children and their mental development that could prove to be the key to the crucial task of detecting such a disorder early on.
The test was performed on 36 children, 18 developing normally and 18 with autism spectrum disorder, to observe the differences when confronted with various scents. Two tubes were attached to a device that measured their breathing patterns, one to send pleasant smells and the other to transmit foul odors. Each were alternated within 10 minutes and the responses were monitored.
Natural reactions had the children with normal development inhale the pleasant aromas of flowers, for example, and quickly change their response when faced with a bad smell such as rotten fish. The sniffing responses of children showing signs of autism, however, were not the same. It was concluded that those possibly afflicted with the disorder would bear the foul scents for much longer and were slower to respond.
Children with autism were reported not to adjust to the change, inhaling the smell of shampoo the same way they did with spoiled food. Furthermore, those showing severe symptoms could breathe in the unpleasant odors for even longer. The conclusion was drawn that children with autism have trouble coordinating smells.
This variation in reaction proved to be 81% effective and it’s so far the closest modern medicine has come to finding a proper tool to make an early diagnosis for autism. The average age for detecting the disorder is two-years old, done through development screening processes as the child grows up. Doctors study how they move, speak, react and interact with others.
Early stage diagnosing is vital and could unlock support services that would change the lives of both the patients and their family. It could offer access to early treatments. Autism is a lifelong development disability that affects every area of a person’s social life and communication with other people. It cripples social maturity.
One in 160 children worldwide are diagnosed with autism and 1 in 68 only in the United States. It is the fastest growing developing disorder with currently no medical test to anticipate it. The ‘sniff test’ could suggest which children suffer from impairments in areas of the brain associated with olfactory sense and motor skills.
All that remains to be determined is the average time it takes for a child to develop their sense of smell, a subject that has yet to be researched, but has now gained great interest. It is unclear if we are born with it or if it develops later in life. Finding out is a place to start and a place to hope for future early diagnosis of autism.
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