Autism detection and diagnosis

Studies under this program aim to develop evidence-based strategies and tools to identify autism in children under 3 years, inform government policy on early childhood development, educate health professionals and parents/carers in how to recognise the signs of autism as early as possible, and improve the outcomes of autistic children.

Research theme leader: Associate Professor Josephine Barbaro

Researchers: Cheryl Dissanayake, Katy Unwin, Nancy Sadka, Rachel Jellett, Melissa Gilbert, Darren Hedley, Alison Lane

OTARC studies have found that when Australian children are diagnosed with autism early in life, this reduces their need for ongoing support at school age by 30%. Australian children who receive an autism diagnosis and subsequent supports in the early and critical years (aged 18-36 months) have better school-age developmental outcomes. And yet, the average age of autism diagnosis in children remains at about 3-4 years (Clark et al., 2017; Clark et al, 2018).

An early diagnosis:

  • enables children to begin participation in specialised supports and service programs at younger ages, maximising their developmental opportunities,
  • promotes greater independence and better quality of life for autistic children and their families, and
  • benefits the community by significantly increasing the chances of these children participating in society.

The Social Attention and Communication Surveillance (SACS) tool

Based on more than 15 years of research - the world's most effective early screening tool for autism.

Learn more about the SACS tool