Currently, autism is diagnosed through a series of psychiatric screenings and evaluations that vary widely in their accuracy. Since many of the typical indicators of autism aren’t always apparent during a child’s behavioral development, correctly diagnosing this disorder can be a challenge.
But what if there were a simpler, more accurate way to detect autism in young children?
As researchers have recently discovered, diagnosing autism could simply be a matter of following your nose.
According to a July 6 Inquisitr article, the study, conducted by the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel, found that children with autism are more likely to inhale unpleasant scents than children without it.
Typically, humans tend to inhale less air when we detect a foul odor — or even hold our breath altogether. But because people with autism have a slight impairment in the brain that inhibits their responses to external stimuli, they don’t have the same reaction to unpleasant smells.
Researchers administered a smell test to 18 children diagnosed on the autism spectrum and 18 children who had developed normally, administering 10 pleasant smells and 10 unpleasant smells to both groups. While the non-autistic children reacted to the unpleasant smells within 305 milliseconds, the children with autism did not respond at all.
In its first trial, the smell test accurately detected autism within small children with an 81% accuracy rate. As the research team continue to develop the test, it could someday be made ready for clinical use.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that one out of every 50 children will be diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), a neurodevelopmental disorder that impairs one’s social interaction and leads to restricted behaviors. While it’s most common for parents to notice signs of ASD within the first two years of their child’s life, some parents don’t realize their child is displaying symptoms until later in childhood.
The Weizmann Institute researchers maintained that they still need to determine the age at which children begin to respond to smells before introducing their sniffing test as a diagnostic method.
However, once this happens, the benefits could be tremendous. Dr. Judith Brown of the National Autistic Society in the UK has said finding an accurate diagnostic method for ASD is the key to “unlocking vital support services which can make a huge difference to people on the autism spectrum and their families.”