Screening tool misidentifies autism in many toddlers
A widely used screening test for autism is more accurate in children at 24 months of age than at 18 months, according to three new studies1,2,3. The results suggest that clinicians need a more finely tuned screen for children younger than 20 months.
Parents in the United States typically complete the Modified Checklist for Autism in Toddlers (M-CHAT) at their child’s 18-month and 24-month visits to the pediatrician. They answer ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to 23 questions probing social, motor and language skills.
Clinicians are supposed to give a follow-up interview to families whose children score above a certain threshold. They refer children for diagnostic testing if that second test indicates the child may have autism.
Testing children at 18 months may give them a head start on therapy. But the new work suggests the M-CHAT isn’t accurate at this age.