Researchers at La Trobe University in Australia have developed a tool for the early detection of autism.

Findings from a five-year study, which was conducted on more than 13,500 children in Victoria, found the tool, named Social Attention and Communication Surveillance-Revise (SACS-R), to be an effective method for diagnosing autism in young children.

The university researchers found that about 83% of infants and toddlers, aged between 12 and 24 months, who were diagnosed as ‘high likelihood’ for autism by the tool were later diagnosed with the disease.

Around 96% of children on the autism spectrum were identified by their 3.5-year health check, while SACS-R was used alongside a SACS-Preschool check.

La Trobe University stated that the early diagnosis of autism is critical and helps in earlier access to affirming support and services.

La Trobe University Olga Tennison Autism Research Centre (OTARC) lead researcher and associate professor Josephine Barbaro said: “Parents are often told to ‘wait and see’ when raising queries about their child’s development. This means the average age of diagnosis is around four to five, and opportunities for early supports have been missed.

“Not only is SACS-R the world’s most effective screening tool, unlike many it can be used within the community on large populations, enabling early identification of very young children across the board.

“Early diagnosis improves developmental outcomes, increases participation in schooling, and allows children to understand their needs and identity from a young age.”

OTARC studies found that the early diagnosis of autism helps in reducing the need for support at school age by 30%.

To increase the identification process’s effectiveness, the added SACS-Preschool tool can be used at the 3.5-year health check, however, training for this tool is not currently funded in Victoria.