Autistic child

Researchers from Cardiff University have developed the first self-assessment test designed to help clinicians diagnose autism in adults.

The test measures the extent to which adults are affected by repetitive behaviours, such as lining up objects or arranging them in patterns, obsessive fiddling with objects, or insisting that aspects of a daily routine remain exactly the same.

Repetitive behaviours are one of the criteria used to diagnose autism, which is found in more than one in 100 of the population.

Researchers claim the test is a reliable method of measuring such behaviours to indicate when they are unusually frequent or severe.

“What our research has done is develop a test where individuals can report on their own behaviours, for both research and clinical purposes.”

Cardiff University autism experts partnered with Australia’s La Trobe University to trial the test on 229 British and Australian adults with and without an autism diagnosis.

Both groups showed a high tendency for repetitive behaviours, but individuals with an autism diagnosis consistently scored significantly higher on this measure

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Cardiff University Wales Autism Research Centre director Sue Leekam said: “Many measures used for research and diagnoses of autism rely on parents, teachers or caregivers to report the behaviours of individuals with the condition.

“What our research has done is develop a test where individuals can report on their own behaviours, for both research and clinical purposes, ensuring we get a fuller picture of the way that these behaviours affect people.”

However, the test is said to be incapable of diagnosing autism because repetitive behaviours are common to other conditions, including obsessive-compulsive disorder, Parkinson’s disease and Tourette syndrome.

The test enables clinicians to measure increased behaviours normally assessed in infancy in a self report form in adulthood.

The next phase of the research would focus on trialling the test on people of all ages with autism before implementing its use in clinics throughout the UK. Results from the previous phase were published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders.

Image: A boy with autism obsessively stacks cans, a condition associated with the disorder. Photo: courtesy of Andwhatsnext.