Research Study at Kennedy Krieger Institute Could Lead to Earlier Diagnosis, Better Outcomes for Children with Autism

April 3, 2002
Coincides with Autism Awareness Month in April

BALTIMORE, MD - Researchers at Kennedy Krieger Institute are leading one of the world's most promising new studies of children with autism, designed to identify the signs of the neurological disorder earlier in a child's life, leading to earlier intervention and improved outcomes. The study coincides with Autism Awareness Month.

The Infant Development Study, supported by the National Institute of Mental Health, is built on the known correlation between children who have autism and the increased incidence of the disorder in their siblings. The study follows these siblings longitudinally, from birth to age 3, tracking potential signs of the disorder.

Autism typically is not diagnosed at least until the age of 3, and by then most children with the disorder have shown regression in social and language skills. Early diagnosis and intervention is paramount to optimizing outcomes for children with autism.

Autism is a brain disorder that typically affects a person's ability to communicate, form relationships with others, and respond appropriately to his or her environment. Some children with autism are relatively high functioning, with speech and intelligence intact. Others are mentally retarded, mute or have serious language delays. For some, autism makes them seem closed off and shut down; others seem locked into repetitive behaviors and rigid patterns of thinking.

Dr. Rebecca Landa, an expert in autism spectrum disorders and director of Kennedy Krieger's Center for Autism and Related Disorders, is leading the important new study. "This is the first study in the world to prospectively follow infants to examine autism. It is a cornerstone of understanding autism and how to treat it. We are studying children with autism to understand the brain abnormality, so that we can develop treatments and prevention strategies," she says. The earlier a child with autism is diagnosed, the sooner intervention can be prescribed to alleviate the effects of the disorder on a child's social and language development skills.

There are currently 120 children being studied as part of Kennedy Krieger's Infant Development Study. Researchers hope to enroll approximately 300 more children over the next five years. Spaulding Rehabilitation Center in Boston and the Dan Marino Center at Miami Children's Hospital have been signed on to evaluate additional children.

Kennedy Krieger Institute is dedicated to helping children and adolescents with disabilities resulting from disorders of the brain achieve their potential and participate as fully as possible in family, community and school life. For more information about Kennedy Krieger Institute, visit www.kennedykrieger.org.

Media Contact Inquiries:

Allison Loritz, (443) 923-7330
Julie Lincoln, (443) 923-7334