Study author Dr. Rebecca Landa of the Kennedy Krieger Institute and colleagues concluded a simple "pull-to-sit" task could be added to existing developmental screenings at pediatric well visits to improve early detection of developmental delays.
Landa and her team examined 40 infants, ages 5.6 months to 10 months, considered to be at high genetic risk because a sibling had autism. Infants were scored on whether their head maintained alignment with the spine, or was in front of the spine, during the task. Lack of this head control indicated head lag.
One group of 20 infants were tested at 6, 14 and 24 months. Ninety percent of infants diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder exhibited head lag as infants; 54 percent who met criteria for social/communication delay exhibited head lag as infants and 35 percent of children not meeting the criteria for social or communication delay or autism spectrum disorder exhibited head lag at 6 months.
In the second group of 20 infants, researchers examined 6-month-olds at a single point in time for the presence of head lag. The study found 75 percent of high-risk infants exhibited head lag, compared to 33 percent of low-risk infants.
Landa presented the International Meeting for Autism Research in Toronto.