Melbourne: Scientists have developed a new technique to diagnose autism in babies as young as 12 months.
Dr Josephine Barbaro from Australia's La Trobe University has developed an accurate set of "red flag" markers of the condition, which include a failure by babies to make consistent eye contact, to smile, show their toys to others, to play social games, point and respond when their name is called.
Barbaro is training medical experts around the globe in the use of her diagnostic method on children under two years of age.
"All typically developing babies are pre-wired to be social, look at other people's faces, learn from them and copy what they're doing. Children with autism are not doing this - and we can now accurately identify this at a much younger age and take action," Barbaro said.
Barbaro and her team are training doctors in Tianjin in China, as part of an Australia-China Science and Research Fund Group Mission.
They have helped to train 300 doctors monitor children's development using the early autism identification programme.
Based on these preliminary findings, the Tianjin government has agreed to conduct autism surveillance using Barbaro's programme for every child born in the city for the next seven years.
The team is also training healthcare workers in Poland, Korea, Japan and Bangladesh.