Project Area: Creation and testing of a screening instrument to detect autism in young children
Lead Professor Simon Baron-Cohen
Institution: Autism Research Centre Cambridge
Length: 5 years
Method: Creation and testing of the Q-Chat (Quantitative Checklist for Autism in Toddlers) as a screening instrument to detect autism in young children
Impact: Improved screening tool which enables clinicians and others to detect most children on the autistic spectrum at 18 months.
In the Nineties, the Autism Research Centre in Cambridge developed the first screening method for autism at 18 months. Called the Chat (Checklist for Autism in Toddlers), it was used by health visitors across a group of 16,000 toddlers.
The test confirmed for the first time that autism could be diagnosed early. This increases the likelihood of providing the right support as soon as possible to help the child and his or her carers. Unfortunately the test missed as many cases as it picked up. It was largely only picking up cases of classic autism, and even then, not all of them.
To improve the Chat's ability to detect most children on the autistic spectrum at 18 months, including those who go on to develop Asperger Syndrome, it has been revised.
The Q-Chat (Quantitative Checklist for Autism in Toddlers) is a scale, where you can show behaviour to differing degrees (from very frequent to very infrequent), unlike the Chat, which was an all-or-none scoring system (you either pass or fail each item).
The Q-Chat was tested on 20,000 toddlers aged 18 to 30 months, to see if it met the standards for a national screening instrument: correctly identifying at least 75 per cent of the actual cases in a population.