New Autism Spectrum Research Shows Friends Won’t Speak Up

New Autism Spectrum Research reveals early detection is critical for improving treatment efficacy. 

Most importantly, it’s often those closest to a child who notice the first signs. Yet family and friends are hesitant to speak up. 

New Autism Spectrum research from Columbia Business School and the Seaver Autism Center reveals that children who have older siblings or frequent interaction with grandparents are diagnosed earlier with ASD.

The study was the first to ask parents but also friends and family about their early observations of the child.

In raising one of the oldest and trickiest challenges of ‘other people’s children’ the results highlight a large and meaningful gap between friends thinking there ‘was a problem’ and parents acting on it. 

autism spectrum research


Family and friends hesitant to speak up 

In the study, parents reported that family members were integral catalysts in diagnosing children with ASD.

Approximately 50% of friends and family reported they suspected that a child had a serious condition before they were aware that either parent was concerned. The two most common categories of individuals first to raise concerns were maternal grandmothers and teachers.

“Many parents avoid seeking help to find a diagnosis for their child, even though they sense something might be wrong. They often ignore signs of a larger problem and look the other way, making the role of close family members and friends vital to accelerating diagnosis and helping a child’s condition.” said Sicherman.

The research found that frequent interaction with a grandmother reduces the age of ASD diagnosis by 5.18 months. Further, frequent interaction with a grandfather reduces the age of diagnosis by 3.78 months.

autism spectrum research

The role of extended family and siblings in diagnosis 

While interactions with grandparents play an important role, 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, it appears that older children serve as a reference point, helping parents calibrate whether younger siblings are on-target developmentally and subsequently speeding up diagnosis.

“This study is unique because we asked multiple friends and family members about the factors that may contribute to 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.”

Timing is everything in diagnosis of ASD 

Research findings suggest that there are opportunities to achieve an earlier diagnosis by tapping into wisdom of friends and family. Accelerating the age of diagnosis can have long-term effects on a child’s behaviour and improve overall treatment, social behaviour, and IQ.

Would this research confirm to you, as a friend, that it is your place to speak up about someone else’s child? When early intervention plays such an important role in treatment, is it time we put tact aside and spoke up when we believe there is a problem?

Want to know more about this study? 

This research is titled, Grandma Knows Best: Family Structure and Age Diagnosis of Autism Spectrum DisorderThe paper is co-authored by Nachum SichermanGeorge Loewenstein and Teresa Tavassoliand and Joseph D. Buxbaum. 

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Mother-of-two. Tea lover. Lego Ninja. Expert in carpet Play Dough extraction. Victoria Louis is a 30-something writer based in Sydney, NSW. A former marketing manager who loves to laugh there’s no topic she won’t explore. Victoria is full of opinion, big on kindness and believes the day is always better with a dash of lipstick.

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