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Sniff test could diagnose autism

The way children react to smells could help test for autism


Youngsters with the spectrum disorder experience over or under-sensitivity to sounds, touch, tastes, smells, light or colours.

Researchers have suggested that the way they sniff different aromas could form the basis of a test, before they are even able to speak.

Dr Judith Brown, from the UK’s National Autistic Society, said: “Getting a diagnosis is a crucial step to unlocking vital support services which can make a huge difference to people on the autism spectrum and their families.

“We believe that the possibility of developing a single and universal diagnostic test for autism is unlikely.

“However, in future, if these initial findings are confirmed and fully understood, differences relating to processing smell may offer an additional tool in the necessarily multi-faceted process of diagnosing autism.”

A recent trial by scientists in Israel has found that children with autism generated an “inappropriate” sniff, spending the same amount of time smelling each opposing aroma.

They used a red tube to send either pleasant or unpleasant odours up the nose while a green tube recorded changes in breathing patterns.

They found those with the more severe the symptoms of autism inhaled the unpleasant smells for longer.

Experts now hope the method could provide a key indication in non-verbal children.

Although autism is hard to diagnose before 24 months, symptoms often surface between 12 and 18 months. 

If signs are detected by 18 months of age, intensive treatment may help to rewire the brain and reverse the symptoms.

It is a lifelong developmental disability which affects how a person communicates and relates to others.

As a spectrum condition it means that while all people with autism share certain difficulties, everyone is affected in different ways.

It therefore means some are able to live independent lives while others may need a lifetime of specialist support due to learning disabilities.

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