The British Journal of Psychiatry
Can autism be detected at 18 months? The needle, the haystack, and the CHAT.
S Baron-Cohen, J Allen, C Gillberg


Autism is currently detected only at about three years of age. This study aimed to establish if detection of autism was possible at 18 months of age. We screened 41 18-month-old toddlers who were at high genetic risk for developing autism, and 50 randomly selected 18-month-olds, using a new instrument, the CHAT, administered by GPs or health visitors. More than 80% of the randomly selected 18-month-old toddlers passed on all items, and none failed on more than one of pretend play, protodeclarative pointing, joint-attention, social interest, and social play. Four children in the high-risk group failed on two or more of these five key types of behaviour. At follow-up at 30 months of age, the 87 children who had passed four or more of these key types of behaviour at 18 months of age had continued to develop normally. The four toddlers who had failed on two or more of these key types of behaviour at 18 months received a diagnosis of autism by 30 months.