Autism is a condition that many children are being diagnosed with today. Recent global statistics have revealed that 1 in 160 children are considered autistic. The condition is usually recognizable due to the child’s impaired social interaction, however it might take a while for an adult to detect it based on this alone.
But new research conducted by a team of researchers from Israel has shown that toddlers could quickly and easily be diagnosed with autism depending on how they behave during simple sniffing test. The good news does not stop there as the test could be performed on children that are merely a few months old.
Generally speaking, people take long, big sniffs when smelling something pleasant such as a rose or a home baked pie, and short, limited breaths when they encounter an unpleasant smell such as that coming out of a sewer or from someone’s armpits.
What the new study has found is that people who have autism spectrum disorder (ASD) don’t discriminate between the two (2) types of smell. They don’t adjust or change the longevity of their sniffs regardless of what the scent they’re taking in is.
Noam Sobel, a professor from the Weizmann Institute of Science (Israel), gave a statement saying that “The difference in sniffing pattern between the typically developing children and children with autism was simply overwhelming”.
He used previous studies for inspiration for his own work. There were already hints in the scientific community that seemed to suggest that the “internal action models” (brain templates that help us coordinate our sense with put actions) of people diagnosed with autism are every bit as impaired as their social skills. The problem was that there was no definitive evidence.
For their study, published in the journal Current Biology, professor Sobel and his team looked at 18 children with autism and 18 children without the condition, adding up to a total of 36 subjects. They were all asked to take in both pleasant and unpleasant smells while the researchers measured their sniffs.
The results showed that children without the affliction adjusted their sniffing patterns in up to 305 milliseconds after beginning to take in a scent, while children with the affliction lacked this particular response mechanism.
The test lasted just 10 minutes, and it was accurate enough that it classified subjects correctly 81 percent (81%) of the time as either having or not having autism. What’s more, the researchers also discovered that the less sensitive the autistic children were to the various unpleasant scents, the more severe their condition was.
Professor Sobel is hopeful that the study will aid in the development of a non verbal diagnostic tool that can easily be applied to children as young as just a few months old since the sooner the condition is detected, the ore effective the treatment can be.
The research team also hopes to conduct tests on patients with other neurodevelopmental disorders in order to find out if the sniffing test is specific to those with autism spectrum disorder, or if it can be applied to a larger number of disorders.
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