Researchers found new simple method to detect autism in a child’s early life – a sniff test. The team found that autistic children do not react to unpleasant smells like normal children do. They continue sniffing regardless of the scent.
The test could prove crucial in diagnosing autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in a few-month-old toddlers and help doctors assign a treatment before the disease becomes hard to treat.
If the test indeed helps doctors to detect the disease in toddlers, it will turn out to be a better diagnostic tool than anything else to date. Additionally, its main advantage is that it doesn’t involve verbal interaction. A visceral reaction is all you need.
Professor Noam Sobel, co-author of the study and researcher at Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel, explained that the difference between sniffing patterns in perfectly healthy children and those affected by the disorder was “simply overhealming.”
Previous research had shown that autistic patients have impaired “internal action models.” These models are templates the brain uses to coordinate senses with certain actions. But until this recent study, there wasn’t a research to tell whether these impaired templates affected the sense of smell in people with autism.
During their research, Professor Sobel’s team used pleasant smells and unpleasant smells on 36 children with the average age 7. Half of them were autistic. Scientists noted that healthy children had a visceral response to bad odors within 300 milliseconds, while autistic children had absolutely no response. In 81 percent cases, the diagnosis of ASD was perfectly accurate.
The research team also found that the more out-of-the-ordinary the reaction to an unpleasant odor was, the more severe autism symptoms were. This applied also to children that were autistic only on a social level and displayed no physical impairments.
Nevertheless, researchers say that their method is not ready to be employed by clinicians, though the disease and its severity can be identified in less than 10 minutes with “meaningful accuracy.” What’s more, the test is non-verbal and the child doesn’t need to perform any task.
Professor Sobel said that the sniff test may soon help doctors identify autism in new-born babies as well, but more research needed to be conducted.
“Such early diagnosis would allow for more effective intervention,”
As a follow up, the team plans to investigate whether the lack of response in the sniff test was linked only to autism or there are other neuro-developmental conditions that may trigger it.
Image Source: Wired