Study doubts effectiveness of popular autism screening tool

A common autism screening technique may be mistaking intellectual disabilities for autism, a major study has revealed.

The research, published by the Arctic University of Norway, is among those to highlight significant shortcomings of the Modified Checklist for Autism in Toddlers (M-CHAT).

The validated developmental screening tool for toddlers between 16 and 30 months of age includes 20 or more questions in which parents answer queries about their children’s health and behaviour. The results are then used to put the child forward for further evaluation.

But the screening method – which is commonly used around the world – could be misdiagnosing “more than 80 per cent” of non-autistic toddlers who have intellectual disabilities. Around 70 per cent of toddlers with autism, meanwhile, could be missed by the tool.

This could be leading to “severe delays” in receiving appropriate treatment and reaching developmental milestones for children, say the authors.

They add that the findings add to the “mounting body of evidence” that the tool is “not sufficient on its own to identify signs of autism”.

The study follows earlier research revealing that the M-CHAT screening method was only able to identify one-third of children at 18 months who later went on to be diagnosed with autism.

According to the latest statistics, autism affects around one in every 100 people, meaning there are around 700,000 individuals on the autism spectrum in the UK.

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