Home Autism Detector Worries Some Doctors

Johnson said that time is of the essence when diagnosing autism since the benefits of treatment diminish the older the child is diagnosed.

"It's different than a lot of other disabilities. In autism, time really does make a difference in the interventions," said Johnson.

"Once this technology becomes available to parents I don't think there's any use in criticizing them," Johnson added.

But while many autism specialists around the country were excited by the LENA technology, many also feared the consequences of putting early screening tools into the hands of parents.

Should Only Doctors Screen for Autism?

Catherine Lord, director of the University of Michigan Autism and Communication Disorders Center (UMACC), said she appreciated LENA's work as a research tool, but not as screening for the general public.

"I am familiar with LENA and we (UMACC) are getting ready to use it in a research project in order to measure changes in children's and parents' behavior in response to an intervention program for toddlers with autism," said Lord. "I think LENA has the potential for being very helpful for researchers and perhaps in the measurement of progress but I'd be very careful about proposing it as an autism detector."

While Lord uses LENA in research, she said not all children who have early speech problems are autistic and moreover, signs of autism appear not only in the words the child speaks, but what communication the child is able to absorb.

"I would hate to distract families from the idea that what their child understands is something to attend to by focusing only on vocal production," said Lord.

Diagnosing Autism From a Parent's Point of View

Nine years ago, Shelly Galli got an early diagnosis for her daughter Camille, now 11, because she noticed a difference in attention, not spoken words.

"If you look at my daughter, who was diagnosed at 2, she hardly spoke at all," said Camille, who noticed Camille was regressing by 18 months.

"What I lost from her was the focus, the attention," said Galli.

Dr. Susan Anderson, director of the Autism Clinic at the University of Virginia Children's Hospital, said that specialists are looking at communication, not just spoken words during a professional autism screening.

"Autism is not only a disorder of verbal communication (which is both delayed and disordered) but is also a disorder of non-verbal communication, a disorder of social development (including play skills) and interactional skills, and a disorder which includes atypical behaviors," said Anderson. "Any means of screening for autism needs to include all of these measures."

While Galli doubts she would have spent the money on LAS when she was concerned about her daughter, she thought it had potential for parents of children with autism to track the child's progress, or for parents concerned with a true speech disorder.

"To buy a machine for that much if you want to see if your child has any speech problem, spending that much would be reasonable, but it would have to be with a doctor," said Galli. "This should not be an infomercial."

Galli also feared parents of children with autism may react poorly to the mailed results from LAS.

"A lot of parents really go crazy; they will get back a report about their child's autism and go nuts. It's with good reason," said Galli, who fields calls from concerned parents as part of her work with Autism Speaks

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