Grandparents and Siblings Can Help Diagnose Autism
Parents are often not the first to identify that their child has a serious condition
- Older siblings are likely to serve as a reference point for parents, making it easier to establish delays or unusual features in a younger sibling’s development
- Understanding the causes for delayed or accelerated diagnosis can ultimately improve treatment and outcomes for the child
Early detection is critical for improving treatment efficacy for those with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), and it’s often those closest to a child who notices the first signs. New research from Columbia Business School, Carnegie Mellon University, and the Seaver Autism Center for Research and Treatment at Mount Sinai reveals that children who had older siblings or frequent interaction with grandparents were diagnosed earlier with ASD. The study was the first to ask not only parents but also friends and family members who had contact with the child about their early observations of the child.
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In the study, parents reported that family members were integral catalysts in diagnosing children with ASD. Approximately 50 percent of friends and family reported that they suspected that a child had a serious condition before they were aware that either parent was concerned. The two most common categories of the relationship to the child of individuals first to raise concerns were maternal grandmothers and teachers.
The research titled, “Grandma Knows Best: Family Structure and Age Diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder,” was published in the journal Autism and was co-authored by Nachum Sicherman, Carson Family Professor of Business at Columbia Business School, George Loewenstein of Carnegie Mellon University, and Teresa Tavassoliand Joseph D. Buxbaum of the Seaver Autism Center for Research and Treatment at Mt. Sinai.
Grandparents have Impact
The researchers found that frequent interaction with a grandmother reduces the age of ASD diagnosis by 5.18 months, and frequent interaction with a grandfather reduces the age of diagnosis by 3.78 months.
While interactions with grandparents play an important role, the family structure also impacts the age of diagnosis. Households with an only child are diagnosed with ASD on average six to eight months sooner than others.
Additionally, the presence of older siblings, and especially being the youngest child, reduces the age of diagnosis by 9.5 to 10 months, compared with children who only have younger siblings. Hence, it appears that older children serve as a reference point, helping parents calibrate whether younger siblings are on-target developmentally.
“This study is unique because we asked multiple friends and family members about the factors that may contribute to the age of diagnosis of autism,” said Buxbaum. “We were troubled that about half of the friends and family who were concerned about a child were reluctant to share their concerns. Importantly, frequent interaction with a grandparent, and particularly a grandmother, was associated with earlier diagnosis.”
The research findings suggest that there are opportunities to achieve an earlier diagnosis by tapping into wisdom from friends and family.
Accelerating the age of diagnosis can have long-term effects on a child’s behavior and improve overall treatment, social behavior, and IQ.