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Head Lag Test for Infants May Indicate Autism

May 16, 2013

It has been well-documented that weak head and neck control in babies can be an indication of developmental delays, but new research shows that head and neck control can also signal autism. According to a new autism study conducted by the Kennedy Krieger Institute, a "pull-to-sit" test on babies as early as 6-months-old can be an early indicator of possible autism spectrum disorders (ASD). 

In the study, researchers tested the head and neck strength of two groups of babies. Researchers slowly pulled babies who were laying down up by their arms to a seated position. The first group comprised solely of babies that were considered to be at higher genetic risk for developing ASD. The infants in this group were tested at 6, 14 and 24 months old. Researchers found that 90 percent of babies in this group that were later diagnosed with ASD showed head lag during the study. The second group was comprised of both babies at high-risk for developing ASD and babies at low-risk for developing ASD. In the second group, researchers found that 75 percent of the high-risk children showed head lag while only 33 percent of the low-risk children exhibited head lag. 

According to the Autism Society, ASD is the fastest growing developmental disorder in the United States. Early diagnosis and intervention are crucial to giving children with ASD the assistance they need. The researchers involved in this study believe that the head lag test can be performed in addition to other diagnostic tools to better asses children who are at risk for developing an ASD.

"That’s what makes this finding of particular importance," says Dr. Stefani Hines, director of the Center for Human Development at Beaumont Children's Hospital. "A positive head lag sign may prompt us to be on high alert for a possible emerging ASD diagnosis in high-risk children." More information and a video of the head lag test being administered can be found on ABC News.

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