Saliva May Hold Key to Diagnosing Autism Spectrum Disorders

Autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) have some very distinctive features, but at present there's still no objective diagnostic test. That may soon change, according to a study published in the journal Autism Research that identified specific differences in protein biomarkers present in the saliva of those on the spectrum.

A Compelling Clue

The study, conducted at Clarkson University, involved six male subjects between the ages of five and 17 who met DSM-IV-TR criteria for autism spectrum disorders and six control subjects with no psychiatric or medical disorders. The youngsters with ASD had nine proteins in their saliva that were significantly elevated and three that were lower or absent. Those proteins have links to the immune system and gastrointestinal issues, and several of them are know to interact significantly with each other.

Given the low sample size, the study needs to be repeated with more subjects and the inclusion of females to see if the results can be replicated. If so, testing for those proteins may help doctors confirm a definitive autism diagnosis.

Diagnosis by Observation

Autism is currently diagnosed through a combination of methods. Doctors watch for behavioral signs like language delays, difficulty communicating, short attention span, overly aggressive or passive demeanor, intense tantrums, and fixating on certain tasks, topics, or actions. They also use screening tools like the Childhood Autism Rating Scale, the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule, and the Pervasive Developmental Disorders Screening Test.

Proper diagnosis is important because interventions like medication, applied behavior analysis, speech therapy, and physical therapy can all make a big difference in the quality of life of those with ASD.

If you'd like to stay on the forefront of new develops in the diagnosis and treatment of autism or find about about available resources for support. WebPsychology has a page listing many helpful websites. Two of the largest autism related organizations are Autism Speaks and the Autism Society. Find information on evidence-based treatment through the Association for Science in Autism Treatment.